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August: 'First Nations Classics': Reviving the Literary Landscape

by Ashlee Simpson on 2023-08-01T09:00:00+10:00 | 0 Comments

Image: Arts Hub (2 June 2023) First Nations Classics [image], via Arts Hub, accessed 14 July 2023. 

We are incredibly excited to welcome into our libraries the new titles from the University of Queensland Press’ collection ‘First Nations Classics’!
            The publisher categorises the collection as ‘a gathering of our most prominent Indigenous voices who continuously, as they have always done, revive the literary landscape of the continent’ (UQP 2023), and here at The Gordon Library, we continue to make an ever-expanding contribution to our First Nations collection; one that is brilliant and timeless, informative and creative, inspiring and—significantly—important.
            As the culture of the Australian publishing landscape continues shifting, publishers like UQP designed the series as a way ‘to bring new readers and a renewed attention’ (UQP 2023) to previously published First Nations literature, highlighting the resurgence of readers and the demand for these timeless experience. ‘Inspired by the richness and cultural importance of First Nations writing, and the longstanding role UQP has in publishing those works’ (UQP 2023), eight diverse texts have been inducted into the collection and play an exciting role in being the first “classics” of many to come. 

 

Featuring a range of modes and genres across memoirs, novels, short stories, and poetry, ‘First Nations Classics’ has been curated by editor Yasmin Smith, a prominent editor (of black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing project), writer, and poet, seeking to redefine the complicated nature of the term “classic”.
            Terms like “classic” and what text may be indicted into the literary canon are incredibly weighted words with no right or wrong definition. Smith and UQP have chosen to define their series as ‘First Nations Classics’ as a way to curate a First Nations canon: 

‘“Classic” is a word used to describe revered work that has been in the canon for a very long time. But of course First Nations people have been telling their stories for far longer. UQP chose “classics” to describe works by First Nations writers “that stand out within our own community”’ (Sullivan 2023). 

 

There are a range of exciting details in each title, including inviting forewords and vivid, eye-catching covers.
            Designed by Jenna Lee, a Larrakia, Wardaman, and Karajarri woman, each cover is colourful and strikingly visual whilst enticing the reader into the world of the text. Like portholes on a boat, each cover features a graphic pattern inside of a circle, acting as a window into the text: ‘“they are sneak peeks into the stories”’ (Smith for SMH 2023).
            Furthermore, each title features a foreword by an acclaimed contemporary First Nations writer. With key names such as Alison Whittaker (Treaty-making: Two Hundred and Fifty Years Later (2021)), Evelyn Araluen (Drop Bear (2021)), Nardi Simpson (Song of the Crocodile (2020), and more, the collection ‘offers hope in the exuberance and fun and warm connection revealed in so many of the stories’, and is overall ‘a celebration of First Nations writing’ (Sullivan 2023). 

 

With another eight lined up for publication in 2024 and the potential for more future additions, the first eight titles in the ‘First Nations Classics’ collection are inspiring, exciting, evocative, and rich with the knowledge and experience of their First Nations author.

 

Here’s a sneak peek into each title: 

 

Blood by Tony Birch, introduction by Larissa Behrendt

Described as ‘a fractured fairytale, a dark Australian road story’ (UQP), Blood follows Jesse and sister Rachel on the back roads of Australia, traversing a broken-down adult world and courageously defending indelible sibling bond through to life or death experiences. Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2012, Birch illustrates experiences and action through immersive, exact imagery. 

 

 

 

 

Holocaust Island by Graeme Dixon, introduction by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Written by Dixon whilst in Fremantle prison, Holocaust Island is a moving, dynamic collection of poetry that addresses contemporary and controversial issues—namely First Nations deaths in custody. The poems are sharply satirical, strikingly visual, and maintain a traditional left-aligned structure as a pace-keeper through the movement of each poem. 

 

 

 

 

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Nugi Garimara, introduction by Tara June Winch

A true, astounding tale of courage and belonging, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is the experience of Garimara’s mother, Molly, during the Stolen Generations: ‘Aged eight, eleven and fourteen, they escaped the confinement of a government institution for Aboriginal children removed from their families. Barefoot, without provisions or maps, tracked by Native Police and search planes, the girls followed the rabbit-proof fence, knowing it would lead them home’ (UQP). Made legendary by the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, the text is extraordinary in characterising the narrator’s voice and evokes a pace parallel to the journey that takes place.

 

 

 

Don’t Take Your Love to Town by Ruby Langford Ginibi, introduction by Nardi Simpson

An original, creative, and groundbreaking work of Indigenous memoir, ‘Don’t Take Your Love to Town is a story of courage in the face of poverty and tragedy’ (UQP) and follows Ginibi’s evolving housing situation. Told through the extraordinary eyes of Ginibi herself, the life writing upholds family values and bravery: a story whose ‘life waters our spirit’ (Simpson 2023:xiii).

 

 

 

 

Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane, introduction by Evelyn Araluen

In the introduction to the collection, poet Evelyn Araluen notes ‘no story is simply told’—they are experiences that ‘rest with all the stories that have ever been lived or told on that ever-turning country’ (2023:xii). Situated as endearing snapshots of childhood and growing up, Purple Threads is a short story collection that peaks into Leane’s childhood—a life of freedom, protection, and love; challenges and unpredictability.

 

 

 

 

Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven, introduction by Alison Whittaker

‘Over three parts, van Neerven takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist’ (UQP). Traversing ‘Heat’, ‘Water’, and ‘Light’, the collection dissects family and legacy; interrogates a futuristic world; and embraces familial ties challenged by freedom and belonging. Initially written for a new generation of readers and writers in 2012, van Neerven brings intersectionality to the page in strikingly creative ways: ‘it’s not only a metaphor we can choose to use to describe a hard-fought space where First Nations queers can express themselves’, it is ‘a stunning collection’ of experience and passion. 

 

 

 

The Window Seat by Archie Weller, introduction by Ernie Dingo

To rethink what it means to be Australian means to interrogate in honest, brutal, and moving ways. Weller’s collection of short fiction is described as a tribute and contribution to Australia literature. Rich with concrete images and events, and extraordinarily characteristic during moments of dialogue and narration—‘Made me wild, ya know!’ (2023:246)—Weller marvellously articulates a unique voice.

 

 

 

 

Unbranded by Herb Wharton, introduction by Kev Carmody

‘A unique, authentic novel of friendship and brotherhood’, and based on Wharton’s ‘long years droving on stock routes of inland Australia’ (UQP), the novel produces a strikingly original vision of outback Australia alongside the incredible and truthful characterisation of rollicking stockmen, shearers, barmaids, and tourists. There is a strong sense of movement throughout the novel, and it ‘introduces us to that unique concept of oral historical storytelling in a written form’ (Carmody 2023:v).

 

 

 

 

The full ‘First Nations Classics’ collection is available at both the City and East Campus libraries: reserve here.

Words by Ashlee Simpson, Library Officer.

Back to library homepage.  

Reference List:

            Caldwell-Bright B and Smith Y (2023) Creating the First Nations Classics collection, Wheeler Centre, accessed 14 July 2023.

On T (2 June 2023) First Nations Classics released in time for NAIDOC week, Arts Hub, accessed 14 July 2023.

            Sullivan J (15 June 2023) Eight books that have shaken and shaped us: Unearthing our First Nations classic, The Sydney Morning Herald, accessed 14 July 2023.

            UQP (2023) ‘Pack of eight First Nations Classics’, University of Queensland Press, accessed 14 July 2023.  

All images supplied by University of Queensland Press (UQP) unless otherwise stated.


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