6 groundbreaking books by Australian women writers

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This year, the Stella Prize has selected a burning collection of experimental works. What these writers have to say does not fall within the bounds of literary convention.

The shortlisted books, including poetry, essays, graphic fiction and a single novel, tear apart traditional forms, remaking language. And because language is the first tool we access to understand the world, old ways of seeing and thinking are also abandoned.

The issues addressed by these books are urgent – stories of institutionalized racism, the Stolen Generations, the sexual abuse of women and children in frightening numbers, dark memories caught up and entangled in the present.

The impact sometimes resembles a head-on collision. The drive is stuck in the headlights and there is nowhere to hide.

But there are also moments of joy – and the effect is oddly hopeful, giving the feeling that all that energy can be harnessed to build a better future.

These books are not easily summarized. But here are some clues.

Homecoming by Elfie Shiosaki

Colonial archives are violent. Elfie Shiosaki’s collection of poetry, archival fragments and spoken histories – family letters, protest letters, Aboriginal Department archives, fragments of evidence and testimonies given to commissions of inquiry – refer to violence archives.

It also performs what Shiosaki calls a “restorative script”, weaving together the stories of four generations of Noongar women (of which Shiosaki’s mother is the fifth, and Shiosaki is the sixth), making palpable the felt life that is missing from the record. historical.

Homecoming contains pages of surprising power. The found poem “Records of Slavery” chillingly describes the history of colonialism by transcribing the “personal history map” of Shiosaki’s great-grandmother, revealing the shocking extent of surveillance and interference in the lives of Aboriginal people, led by AO Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines from 1915 to 1940.

The map listed where Shiosaki’s great-grandmother had gone, all the jobs she had, who she worked for, and what she earned — an ever-decreasing amount. These truths appear alongside stories that Shiosaki cannot find in the archives. In the prose poem ‘Venus’, tales of joyful gatherings on the beach that made ‘my grandmother’s eyes dance’ highlight the beauty and boldness of this Noongar woman, something the archives could never encompass.

The effect is intimate and personal, but also epic in the breadth of its history of Indigenous peoples: a history filled with dignified refusals and acts of defiance.

Where to buy Homecoming

Amazon Australia ($20.25) | Booktopia ($21.25)

Stone Fruit by Lee Lai

Nessie – a cheerful, wild and perceptive child – is the bright spark at the heart of Lee Lai’s graphic novel Stone Fruit. Nessie’s playdates spent romping around in the park with her queer aunts, Ray and Bron, are a refuge in women’s lives: a moment of respite from the angst and struggle of relationship by Ray and Bron.

With its sparse and naturalistic storyline, Stone Fruit shows how painful it can be to connect with the people closest to you. The lyrical black and white pen drawings, enhanced with blue washes, artfully capture the intimacy of characters who struggle to say what they think and feel.

Both women try to connect with their families as their relationship erodes. Bron, with her ultra-religious family, who don’t understand who she is or what she needs. Ray, with her bullied and overworked single mother sister, who constantly worries that her shortcomings are making her a bad mother.

It’s only when Ray and Bron are with Nessie that they can truly be themselves. Lee Lai captures this sense of freedom with her pen, transforming them into magical creatures running through grass and trees, filled with joy and energy, comfortable with themselves and connected to the world.

Where to buy stone fruit

Amazon Australia ($31.27) | Booktopia ($32.35)

Body of Light by Jennifer Down

Bodies of Light, Jennifer Down’s second novel, is a study in empathy. Its protagonist, Maggie Sullivan, arouses an astonishing depth of emotion in the reader. Maggie’s mother dies of an overdose when she is two years old. When she was four, she was sexually abused by her father’s friend – an event the reader deduces as Maggie relays the experience through the things she can relate to; she has bruises and it hurts to pee.

After Maggie’s drug addict father is imprisoned for accidentally injecting and killing a friend, Maggie is taken into state care. Here she is caught up in the vast social machinery of ‘cottage parents’ and ‘residential units’, scheduled meal times and television hours. Through it all, she tries to top her damage.

At least part of the brilliance of the novel is the empathy with which Maggie sees the world. “I thought about what it must be like…to see your likeness on someone else’s face, to share another’s memories.” Guarded and suspicious, Maggie is not looking for the blue sky, but “a hollow to cross”. She changes her name and continent, only to find that she is inseparable from the past.

This book is not afraid of sentiment, and indeed, calculated to elicit it. Maggie is a character who tries to make herself as “small as possible” but generates a reality that is enormous.

where to buy lightbodies

Amazon Australia ($23.09) | Booktopia ($26.25)

No documents by Anwen Crawford

Anwen Crawford’s experimental work defies easy categorization. It opens with a description of George Franju’s documentary, The Blood of Beasts, and perhaps the logic of the image – the structure of films and photographs – connects the collection.

It’s what allows Crawford to draw eerie parallels between a horse in the slaughterhouse – momentarily resembling a statuary piece of a carousel before it was shot, with a bolt through its head – and memories of protests and police horses, images of airstrikes and dead civilians, displaced people and asylum seekers in boats, “lying in the shadows cast by shipping containers” on the Tampa, traveling to Woomera and Christmas Island, and fleeing airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. She challenges the belief, drawn from media sound bites and headlines, that Australians “do not behave in a barbaric way”.

No Document is also a personal mediation on pain and loss (dedicated to a deceased friend of Crawford), in which her own pain is mixed with the injustices of the world. “A hospital psychologist advised me to distinguish my own moods from the state of the world,” Crawford writes.

This essay marks his refusal. Grids and lines are inserted into the text, marking borders and boundaries. Missing words mark gaps in imagination and memory, making the void visible. Through it all, the slaughterhouse is a recurring motif.

The reader will find themselves looking for moments of respite, like the photograph her dead friend once brought to art class, showing the artist “kneeling at night on a sidewalk, digging through concrete until ‘he cracking, then planting a sapling in the new wound’.

Here is the hope – until the author corrects you and the text stirs up new angst.

Where to buy No document

Amazon Australia ($21.56) | Booktopia ($22.35)

Drop Bear by Evelyn Araluen

Evelyn Araluen, a descendant of the Bundjalung Nation, tackles colonial appropriation in her debut collection of prose and poetry, reorienting white settler tropes to revisit a long history of colonial mythmaking by turning myth, kitsch and cliche on themselves.

Araluen’s work crosses literary conventions that treat the Australian landscape as an empty abyss, or evoke the country as a clichéd object of kitsch affection, populated by Bad Banksia Men and Gumnut Babies: a mythical interior where women constantly take care of the hearth and the house, while the men drive. sheep and rabbits across borders.

“Playing in the Pastoral” dissects the Arcadian genre as “a series of modes that equate the natural and human worlds with objects of white endeavour”. The frontier myth of “discovery” is again the object of a dark pastiche in “The Last Endeavour”, which evokes the expedition of a “captain botanist astronomer”, “blessed lips of blood and coal” and the “pride of the affected seals.” hands”.

These tropes of white settlers are powerfully juxtaposed with the reality of a modern Australian landscape carved out of suburban sprawl like a “magic pudding for settlers to eat, and eat, and eat”.

“Humans! Please be kind to all Bush CreaturesTM,” Araluen writes in “Mrs Kookaburra Addresses the Natives”. marked “copyright”.

The words burn on every page.

Where to buy Drop Bear

Amazon Australia ($19.25) | Booktopia ($20.75)

TAKE CARE by Eunice Andrada

Violence is “a structure, not an event”, writes Andrada, in his collection of visceral poetry. TAKE CARE traces themes ranging from imperialism and colonialism to everyday misogyny, sexual assault and climate change.

Images of N95 masks and Dettol wipes are scattered about, evoking the years of flood, fire and plague – and striking the reader with unease – in a collection that pays close attention to how structural inequalities and sexual exploitation intersect with stories of racism.

“Comfort” uses documentary fragments to trace the contours of acts of rape in a history of military violence. “Another statue dedicated to ‘comfort women’ who were enslaved and raped in times of war has been removed in the Philippines,” the footage begins. The words are rendered illegible by the silhouette of an erection slicing through the text, looming upside down on the next page, “the reminder of a raped woman: in/tolerable, too real/too real, too real… »

The title of the collection, “TAKE CARE”, is a double-edged sword. It means concern – an injunction to take care of yourself – but it is also a warning that there is something the reader needs to be careful of or be afraid of. It is suitable for a collection highlighting the failures of a society that promises equity and inclusion, but consistently fails.

Where to buy TAKE CARE

Amazon Australia ($20.75) | Booktopia ($20.75)


The 2022 Stella Prize winner will be announced tonight, April 28.Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor of Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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