CHENNAI: Identity, kinship, Australian history, and stolen generations were among a few key words that stood out during author Anita Heiss’s talk when she was in the city as a part of Australia fest. An advocate of Indigenous literacy, Anita is a member of the Wiradjuri Nation of Central New South Wales. The Brisbane-based author writes non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, and poetry. Am I Black Enough For You?, Who Am I?, The Diary of Mary Talence, and Sydney 1937 — are some of her appreciated works. Alongside writing, she dons many hats — a poet, a satirist, and a social commentator. She carries with her an aura of positivity and a charming smile even while addressing some of the most serious and thoughtful topics on native issues.
The author has worked in remote communities as a role model, encouraging young Indigenous Australians to write their own stories. On an international level, she has performed her own work and lectured on Aboriginal literature across the globe. With great work comes great responsibility. What does being the Lifetime Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) mean to her? “As a writer, as a reader, as a Wiradjuri woman, I am proud to be a Lifetime Ambassador of the ILF. I know that my life is richer, fuller, more complete and privileged because I have the capacity to read and write in the English language.
I want all Aboriginal children to have the benefits that literacy brings. I think all authors and publishers who rely on readers should have a role to play in literacy development for all.” Has working with Indigenous tribes changed and shaped her perspectives towards life? She says, “I am a Wiradjuri woman, so I have grown up all my life as an Aboriginal/Indigenous person. My identity shapes my writing because it informs my writing. I write through the lens of a contemporary, urban Aboriginal person with life experiences that include moving and working within a range of Aboriginal communities around the country.”
Talking about the reach of social media, she says, “Twitter is for reaching my readers internationally about not only my books and events but those of other writers, especially First Nation authors. I use it for my advocacy as well in terms of literacy and the organisations I support like the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, the GO Foundation, and Worawa Aboriginal College.” The Internet, Anita says, helps in giving voice to those who’d otherwise remain voiceless like the Indigenous who don’t find a place in the mainstream. Anita wants her readers to feel something, to connect with the characters, or loathe the characters (if they are a villain of course). “When we feel, we remember, we think, we are more likely to understand. I want my readers to understand what life is like for strong, sassy, educated, community-minded women like me today. Women like me do not appear in the novels written by white authors, and so in writing about what I know, what I experience, what I feel, I hope that it helps other women to understand what life is like for some Aboriginal women in Australia today,”she says.
The author moves with ease between genres of writing poetry, children’s books and novels. “I am writing an epic Australian love story, fueled by heroism and driven by the need for one Aboriginal woman to find a home. The setting is on the lands of the Wiradjuri people in central New South Wales: Gundagai, Brungle and Wagga Wagga. Wiradjuri country is known as the land of three rivers: The Murrumbidgee, the Gulari (Lachlan) and the Womby (Macquarie), and the rivers will make or break the dreams of the local people who live along their banks,” says Anita. The author was here as a part of the Australia fest. Australia Fest is a six-month celebration of Australian culture and creativity.