Award-winning Australian author Drusilla Modjeska considers the many ways reading Blak has enriched her reading and writing life.
The first Blak novel I read was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It was published in 1958, and I read it a decade later, when I was in Papua New Guinea, studying at the University of PNG. There was a lot of Blak writing at the university, I was in classes with students who were writing articles for the student newspaper, writing and performing plays that we all went to, publishing small books of poetry, some of which I still have on my shelves. It was a time of great awakening for me. I’d grown up in England, where I’d read Kipling, fascinated with the stories of India, but of course I was introduced to it by an English writer, a child of Empire – for all that he loved the place he wrote of. It was reading Chinua Achebe that gave me an understanding of the impact and effect of colonialism – Achebe, who died in 2013, was, of course, Nigerian. Achebe and those young student writers I had the good fortune of studying with, turned my world-view around. Since then reading Blak has been as much a part of my reading as reading women, reading world literature, reading the classics.
Of those long-ago students in PNG, Russell Soaba is still writing – one of the best post-colonial Blak writers of our region – and has fostered the rising generation of young Papua New Guinean writers, who are little know here, in neighbouring Australia. Oh how I wish writers like Steven Winduo, Martyn Namorong, Regina Dorum, Gary Juffa and Leonard Fong Roka (to name just a few) could be in Melbourne for the Blak & Bright Literary Festival.
Drusilla Modjeska is one of Australia’s most acclaimed writers. Her latest book is Second Half First(Random House).