The #weneeddiversebooks campaign was established in the US in 2014 in response to the lack of diversity in youth literature at the time. In 2015, when Bad Feminist author Roxanne Gay visited Australia, she said that one of the questions she asked when she first arrived was ‘are there any black people here?’ It’s not surprising the she would ask this, given the lack of Indigenous faces we see on Australian screens, or in the media, and in Australian books. Despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures being one of ACARA’s cross-curriculum priorities, at first glance at least, it would appear that books by Aboriginal authors are hard to come by.
In fact they aren’t. YA author Ambelin Kwaymullina (The Tribe) is passionate about this. In fact, she has written several articles on the need for Indigenous literature in the classroom, most recently for the Wheeler Centre which can be found here. She says
The briefest glance at the catalogue of Aboriginal publishers in Australia (IAD Press, Magabala Books, and Aboriginal Studies Press) is enough to show that there is an extraordinary range of Indigenous voices across every genre, and there’s plenty of Indigenous writers being published by other publishers too. Indigenous voices are speaking. They are just too often not being heard. So silence does not always exist to be filled; sometimes it should be interrogated.
I spoke to Ambelin recently at the Reading Matters conference hosted by the Centre for Youth Literature in Victoria. I’ve spoken to her before and would love to speak to her again. Among other things, she is absolutely unwilling to skirt around issues that she believes needs to be addressed. In a society where so many issues are treated to Australia’s famous ‘look away’ treatment, it’s refreshing to be challenged – it’s the only way to steer us away from the easy option.
So I came away from our conversation asking myself what I could do. And the most obvious thing I could think of was to read, and review as many books by Aboriginal authors that I could get my hands on. I’ll be doing that, and posting my progress on the blog, and on twitter using #weneeddiversebooksAU. Where possible I’ll link or add teachers notes, links to buy the books, author interviews and anything else that is relevant. I’m open to recommendations and would love people to get involved in the discussion, share books they’ve read, or experiences they’ve had in the classroom on these topics*.
*I reserve the right to refuse any comments that are offensive or irrelevant.