UWS program aims to promote Australian, Indian writing

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Anita Heiss, Mridula Chakraborty, Alexis Wright

An innovative project convened by the University of Western Sydney will bring Australian and Indian Indigenous writing to new audiences in both countries.

The LITERARY COMMONS! initiative focuses on two of the oldest human civilizations with two of the earliest story-telling traditions, the Indigenous peoples of Australia and India.

The Project Convenor Dr Mridula Chakraborty, from the UWS Writing and Society Research Centre, says the initiative will open up the Indian literary sphere by allowing Australian Indigenous writers to reach out to the vast majority of Indians who do not read in English.

“Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander writing resonates deeply with regional language and Dalit literature from the Indian subcontinent,” says Dr Chakraborty.

“The Dalit (formerly known as the Untouchables) literary renaissance has been one of the most significant developments in India in the last three decades, but has surprisingly not gained much exposure outside the country.”

“Considering Australia is looking to engage more with Asia, countries like India can offer us wonderful examples of multiculturalism in literature, and we in turn can take our own successes there.”

The program will see a dozen Indigenous writers from Australia take part in literary festivals and specially convened university engagements in India. Participating authors include acclaimed Indigenous writers Alexis Wright, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Anita Heiss, Jared Thomas and Lionel Fogarty.

Dr Anita Heiss says the project provides a new platform for Indigenous writers to grow their readership in one of the world’s largest markets, and learn about the process of researching and writing in India.

“This form of professional development for any writer is a gift to be treasured,” says Dr Heiss, the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous writing.

“As an advocate for the BlackWords research community I am grateful to fly the flag for other writers while on tour, promoting works more broadly than my own.”

Miles Franklin Literary Award winner Alexis Wright says it’s a unique opportunity for Australian Indigenous writers to experience the rich and diverse cultures of India.

“I am looking forward to sharing our works, ideas and concerns as writers, and learning a great deal from the many important writers working in India today,” says Ms Wright.

“It is a honour and privilege to be able to take part in this project.”

The Australian authors will travel to India for major literary festivals in Bangalore, Goa, Kolkata and Jaipur, as well as university conferences and translation schools in Madras, Mysore and Jadavpur. In particular, they will be interacting with Dalit writers, who have revolutionized literature in India today by bringing issues of indigeneity and marginality to the forefront.

While Indian writing in English has had spectacular success around the world, very little is known abroad about the 22 official languages with their own thriving literary traditions. These regional language or bhasha literatures, deeply influential in their own constituencies, tap into the heart of the ‘real’ India, where forces of globalisation are in lively contestation with older and continuing traditions.

Editor at the black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing Project Ellen van Neerven says the cultural exchange between Indigenous Australian and Dalit writers will be of great value.

“Our developing writers and editors will benefit from this thoughtful project, and it’s a very exciting time for Indigenous literature,” she says.

Published in The Indian Sun, Sydney

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