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BOOK LOVE: Am I Black Enough for You? by Anita Heiss

In Am I Black Enough for You, Anita Heiss directly tackles the belittling idea that there is only one identity to be found within a specific cultural or ethnic background. With her trademark humour and razor-sharp insight, Anita gracefully explores her identity as an Aboriginal woman, and the intersecting lines of sameness and difference to the people around her. Through her own story, Anita raises numerous questions great and small as to how we all respond to this idea of ‘otherness’, and makes a succession of hard-hitting, challenging points about the narrow-minded assumptions still embedded in western society, which affect everything from the way that history is taught in schools to assuming Anita has a natural affinity for camping (and I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t!).

Anita also talks about the well-known court case where she and eight other applicants took on Andrew Bolt, who had written an article in the Herald Sun suggesting these women had used their Aboriginality to gain professional advantage. The case was won, but that was not the end of it for Anita. When Am I Black Enough for You? came out in April, I was on lockdown trying to finish my novel, but I didn’t miss what happened next. Anita was attacked on various online sites, with racist and derogatory comments, some of which I had the misfortune to read. What struck me most was the suggestion that with this victory, Anita had somehow denied the notion of free speech, when nothing could be further from the truth. In the promotion of free speech as a universal ideal, there is now, ironically, a platform for slander and misrepresentation on a staggering scale. I’m so glad that Anita and her fellow applicants didn’t allow these assertions to go unchallenged, and that they stood up for who they are and everything they have achieved. The Australian book industry wouldn’t be the same without Anita doing all she can to close gaps of communication and understanding, and telling stories to make us think and make us smile.

Anita writes across a number of genres. To find out more visit http://www.anitaheiss.com/. You can also watch Anita on YouTube talking about Am I Black Enough for you.

 

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Child marrage, fracking, dolphins, and some big questions

I usually have to brace myself to read the latest news and events of the world, so much of it shocking and senseless. Yesterday I learned about child marriage in northern India, girls who are wedded by their early teens, and have their pregnancies explained to them at the onset of labour. I also came across ‘fracking’, a new method of obtaining natural gas which turns tap water into explosive. And then there are the 25 dolphins that swam free days ago, and are now bound for the entertainment industry on Sentosa Island, Singapore, where the few who survive will be oohed and aahed at by visitors while they adjust to life in their swimming pool prison.

And I wonder, if you want to effect real change, how do you ask people to open up, past their fears, prejudices, beliefs, traditions, sense of selves embedded far deeper than vital organs, and re-examine their lives? To ask them to turn over each heavy stone of truth and see what it might really be made of? For a society to do this successfully, doesn’t it have to happen within each individual too? And if we ask this of others, shouldn’t we first ask it of ourselves? What might our own stones reveal, if we have the willingness to recognise them and the courage to examine their foundations?

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Perth Writers Festival #2: The death of print?

On Sunday morning I attended a Perth Writers Festival session discussing the future of printed books in this world of rapid, almost rabid, technological change. I was completely engrossed listening to the panel of Geordie Williamson (chief literary critic of the Australian), James Bradley (novelist), Lev Grossman (novelist) and Angela Meyer (writer, Literary Minded blog) as they contributed a wealth of suggestions and observations. There were a few differences of opinion, but one thing was for certain: change is already upon us, whether we are prepared for it or not.

I came away feeling reasonably positive. James Bradley noted that, as happened with the music industry, the restructuring of the book industry would engender a new wave of creativity. Lev Grossman suggested that the new technologies need not mean the death of the old ones, but rather the advent of something ‘more complex and interesting’. And Angela Meyer proposed that the bookstores who prevail will be the ones who create a culture around themselves, such as the Readings chain in Melbourne (which I’m excited to be visiting for the first time next week). Geordie Williamson observed that we may end up seeing a more diverse industry, akin to the way things operated before conglomerate consolidation.

One question raised was whether the enhanced e-book is a good or bad thing – or indeed if it is possible to authentically translate all books into standard or enhanced e-formats.  I loved Lev Grossman’s statement that ‘just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’ (something that sprang to mind again as I looked longingly at the scones in my local cafe this morning). Geordie Williamson’s related comment, that in our excitement we may begin to see technology as a virtue in itself instead of a tool, also rang bells with me – because my fiction books are written with the aim that I want you to lose yourself in them. I don’t want you to pause to click on words to find out their meaning unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want your e-reader battery life to run out just before the final chapter. I don’t want you to accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself reading a random page. I guess in some ways my novels (and, heaven forbid, me?!) are a little bit old school, so I’m happy I am writing at a time when I can see them in print.

I got home that night and saw on Twitter that the publishers of the Oxford dictionary have conceded there is no point in publishing the printed version any more. From now on it will be online only. I thought of my enormous dictionary in the study, which I frequently don’t bother to haul out, since I can look up a word much faster on the internet. And yet… to flick through page after page of minuscule text and find random words you never knew existed … to be able to feel the English language as a weight in your hands… The loss may not be registered by future generations, but at that moment I began to feel it.

However, on the panel, James Bradley told us that Socrates apparently deplored the coming of the written text as he said we’d no longer have to remember things. It’s a reminder that many fears prove unfounded, and that change, loss and adaptation are part and parcel of life. So while I may get nostalgic for the vanishing worlds of this wonderful business, I’m also looking ahead with optimism and excitement at what may come next, and enjoying being part of it all.

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That sinking feeling…and yet…

It doesn’t seem like a very good time to be part of the book publishing business. The industry is in a parlous state of flux – publishers and agents appear stressed and depressed, and many bookshops are struggling. In my local area I have watched two lovely independent bookshops open, flounder, and close in the past couple of years. And as of today, industry knowledge has become public knowledge: Borders and Angus & Robertson are in big trouble too.

E-books are on the up, and they have risen so quickly that when we were negotiating my first publishing deal the e-book portion of it proved a little bit tricky, because we were all still getting to grips with the ramifications of the format. Traditional book formats are expensive at RRP – and many of my readers are happy to tell me they got my book out of the library. I don’t mind this at all (I get some books out of the library too), and writers do earn a little bit from library borrowings. Nevertheless, I made more in my final year of editing than I have done in my last three years of writing combined, and soon I will probably need to supplement my writing with another source of income. 

It seems that for everyone in the book business it’s time to adapt in order to survive. I hope as many as possible make it through to the other side, and that diverse, original, independent booksellers can tough it out against the big discounters. And I hope that all writers, published and those to be published, can ignore this horrible blip in the business and pursue their ideas wholeheartedly, because surely, at some stage, things will settle down, and earning a living this way might get a little easier. In the meantime it’s a pleasure to be part of the book-business community, because I’ve met (or cyber-met) so many superb, supportive people in the last couple of years: booksellers, authors, readers, agents, journalists, salespeople, librarians, editors and publishers. Good luck to every one of you, and here’s to a brighter day tomorrow.