Ahead of her EWF debut, Alison Whittaker spoke to us about her creative practice, the art of listening, and the importance of honouring women completely. Come June, Alison will be talking on diversity in publishing at A Room of One’s Own, showcasing her Poetic Practice at The National Writers’ Conference and laying down the love at Amazing Babes.
How are you feeling about appearing in your first Emerging Writers’ Festival as a festival artist?
Ecstatic! Admittedly, also a little wary of Melbourne weather, but I’m sure throngs of eager writers and readers will buffer some of that.
You’ll be presenting at Poetic Practice as a part of our National Writers’ Conference. Your debut collection of poems, Lemons in the Chicken Wire, was released earlier this year – can you tell us a bit about this collection and your process for writing it?
Lemons is a big, knitted wire fence in book form. It pulls together the bodies, stories and smarts of queer Aboriginal women, including me, to form a collection of work that can be looked at, and looked through. I wrote it over a number of years – at first it was just a big diarised muddle, then pub conversations, then poems of themselves, and eventually, into a collection. In that way, Lemons was almost an accident! It was all mess until it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t, it was because of gruelling, glamourless editing of pace, tone, content and structure helped by Grace Lucas-Pennington of the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! project.
As a panelist on A Room of One’s Own’s Diversity in Publishing panel, what do you think Australia’s literary landscape can learn from conversations surrounding diversity in publishing?
It can first learn the art of listening. I mean, real listening. No buzzwords, no pandering, no presumptions.
This year, EWF is curating a panel for Girls Write Up, entitled Sick of the Second Shelf. Girls Write Up is a daylong masterclass for high school students presented by Stella Schools Program. In your experience, how can writing and sharing stories teach empowering attitudes to young people?
Sharing story is all about sharing knowledge, but also, to a degree, about figuring out how to get that inner stuff in you to become outer stuff that you can communicate. Language and socialisation and marginalisation can make that unbearably difficult – I struggled with it as a young person. Writing is an act of empowerment itself, I suppose! Saying ‘Hey, this stuff in me matters and I get to say it and here’s how I say it’ is all about clutching and using what power you’ve got! That’s not just an individualist thing, it’s also rooted in communities and cultures of expression and knowledge.
You’ll also be appearing in everyone’s favourite love fest, Amazing Babes. Why do you think it’s important to acknowledge and honour the incredible women in your life?
How could anyone not be in awe of women? Women can be complicated or ugly or nice sometimes or green-juice drinkers. We’re more than extremes and essentialism and absolutes. We’re at once every wonderful and horrible thing possible.
I think it’s important we honour women completely, and acknowledge our collective personhood in that way, to spite the cruel and sweetly violent things that are said of us.
What have you been working on lately?
Right now, I’m working on my ‘love fest’ for Amazing Babes! Here’s hoping it’s everything I just promised it would be!
Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi experimental poet and life writer from NSW’s floodplain fringe. She writes on Aboriginal womanhood, life at the margins, violence, pleasure and power and has been published in Meanjin, Dissent and Colouring the Rainbow. Alison links the visceral and the political. She works within and outside of her own life, and imbues her work with a communal self. Her flagship poetic novella, Lemons in the Chicken Wire, is set to be released by Magabala Press in 2016, following its conception through the kuril dhagun Literary Fellowship of the State Library of Queensland.
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