Feature Week 8: Author, poet, satirist and social commentator
We are pleased to feature Dr Anita Heiss during the eighth week of the National Year of Reading. Anita is a talented author, poet, satirist and social commentator.
Dr Anita Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales. She was raised in Sydney and educated at the local Catholic school. From there, Anita went on to earn a PhD in Communication and Media from the University of Western Sydney. She was the first Aboriginal student in the University's history to do so. Her Ph.D. considered the historic 1967 referendum that resulted in the amendment of the Australian constitution with regard to the recognition of Indigenous Australians. Anita is currently working as a full-time writer and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney attached to the Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education.
Anita is the author of a dozen books across a wide range of genres including historical, women's and children's fiction, non-fiction, social commentary and poetry. When asked why she selected writing over other artistic pursuits, Anita said "I can't sing or play an instrument, I'm too awkward to dance, and I can't even draw stick figures. But I love to tell a good story and I love to write."
A regular guest at Australian writers' festivals, Anita also travels internationally to discuss her work and lecture on Aboriginal literature. She is a passionate campaigner for Aboriginal literacy and supports this as an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. In addition, she is an ambassador for Books in Homes and a board member of the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy.
Want to know more about Anita?
The following video gives us some understanding of what makes Anita tick!
Anita's thoughts on reading and the National Year of Reading
For me personally the National Year of Reading has been a pleasant reminder of how important and enjoyable it is to lose myself in a book, and that I need to do it more often. I've set myself a goal of reading 52 books in 52 weeks and as I am slow reader, it is a real challenge, but it also means I am working through a range of titles and genres that I may never have picked up before.
I am loving that strangers on Twitter and Facebook have also jumped into the challenge with me and we are sharing what we read and suggesting titles to each other. Many think reading is a solitary activity, I totally disagree.
Of course, I had a new book released on April 1st titled 'Am I black enough for you?' and I am glad that I can be a very personal part of the process of other people's reading.
Take a look at the following clip prepared by for the NSW Department of Education and Training. Anita talks about being an Aboriginal author and the inspiration behind her writing.
Anita's reading habits
- When do you read? I usually read on weekends at the beach or of an afternoon when I lie down to nap. In the National Year of Reading I have taken to reading every night and some mornings when I wake up I give myself 20 minutes reading time. I am a slow reader, so I need to sneak in as much reading time as possible.
- Do you have a favourite genre? I read a lot of Aboriginal literature, across genres, and lately focussing on YA.
- Which book is by your bedside right now? I'm just finishing Alice Pung's 'Unpolished gem' for the second time. It was the inspiration for my own memoir 'Am I black enough for you?'
- What was the last book your bought from a bookshop? Benjamin Law's hilarious and deeply personal book about his family - warts and all! 'The family law' made me smile at a time I was deeply sad. What a gift the book is.
- What was the last book you received as a gift? 'Just kids' by Patti Smith.
- How do you get hold of books? I usually buy my books from independent bookshops and stock up at writers' festivals so I can get autographs too!
- Do you have lots of books on the go at once, or just one? As a rule, I can only read one book at a time.
- Do you use your local public library? I have phases when I use my local library - Bowen Library Maroubra Junction - like a second home. When I am working on a book I'll head there to research, but also as a space to write. I drafted the entire first draft of 'Avoiding Mr Right' at the Bowen. Back then you could take your coffee and cake in as well!
- Estimate the number of books you own. I give a lot of my books away due to space, but at a rough guess I'd say I've got about 800.
- Where do you read? I have two favourite reading places: my comfy bed propped up with four-six feather pillows, or down the beach on my favourite rock. I pretty much need complete silence to concentrate!
Anita's favourite reads
- Oodgeroo Noonuccal was the first Aboriginal person to publish a collection of poetry back in 1964, and her work, 'We are going', remains an influence on me today. Her 'Aboriginal Charter of Rights' is still a reminder of what that needs to be done in Australia in terms of human rights for First Nations people here, and her words are an ongoing motivational force for me to continue what I write, in whatever genre.
- Alice Pung's'Unpolished gem' is the story of Alice's Chinese-Cambodian family in Australia. It deals with stereotypes she'd heard from kids at school and the story included stereotypes of good migrants and bad migrants. But it was the first line of the book 'This story does not begin on a boat', and the later line 'There are no wild swans or falling leaves' that struck me immediately. I knew I had to write a story about Aboriginal Australia that didn't begin in the desert, and didn't have didgeridoos playing in the background.
- 'Butterfly song' by Terri Janke because this novel was first time that I saw in Australian literature Indigenous women in an urban setting in cotemporary Australia; women with career aspirations and love lives and commitment to community. Terri's work was a huge inspiration to me to get more stories like those of her narrator Tarena Shaw on the page. I think 'Butterfly song' is the great Australian novel, because it encompasses so much of this country's spirit and will touch so many Australian hearts that it couldn't be anything but. The book is a love story, a legal lesson, a comment of the contemporary lifestyles and responsibilities of young, educated Indigenous people today, and a treasure-trove of eloquent and elegant writing.
Writers who have influenced Anita
Anita has been influenced by several other women authors, including Libby Gleeson, a National Year of Reading ambassador. To find out more about her sources of inspiration, take a look at a recent contribution Anita made to the LiveJournal blog.
What does it mean to be a real Aborigine? Why is Australia so obsessed with notions of identity? These questions are considered in Anita's new book Am I black enough for you?' that was released on 1st April. Anita's book tells of her journey as she works to break down stereotypes and build bridges between black and white Australia.
The following clip gives us an insight into what we can expect from the book.
Random House, a National Year of Reading partner, have additional details about the book on their website.
Indigenous Literacy Foundation
Anita is an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, along with Andy Griffiths, another National Year of Reading ambassador. This is an initiative of the Australian Publishing Industry, to provide books and literacy resources to remote Indigenous communities around Australia.
Take a look at the following clip that talks about the aims of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the work that the ILF ambassadors undertake.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation is a National Year of Reading partner, and you can find out more about them on their website.
Want to attend an event and hear Anita speak? Here are just a few of her appearances over the coming months:
- April 3: Tuesday's in the Galleries (Sydney). THIS EVENT IS BOOKED OUT!! Robynne Quiggin will consider the themes raised in Anita's work including what it means to her to be an Aboriginal woman in the 21st century. Hear why Anita wrote her memoir on identity and get a copy for yourself. (02) 9273 1770.
- April 18: Anita at the Wheeler Centre (Melbourne) Anita will be in-conversation with author and journalist Martin Flanagan discussing her latest book.
- April 19: Bundaberg Regional Library (Queensland) Anita will talk about her books and writing processes.
- April 27: 2012 Queensland Studies Authority Conference (Brisbane) Anita will be part of the 'Shaping teaching and learning: the assessment factor conference', speaking about researching, writing and teaching Aboriginal literature.
- May 6: Mother's Day High Tea (Brisbane) Anita will join other Random House authors in a fun Mother's Day event.
- May 17: Celebrating the Voice (Wollongong, NSW) As part of the Sydney Writers Festival, Anita will be part of the annual 'Celebrating the voice: national and international indigenous writers' event.
- July 12: Discovery: ALIA Biennial Sydney 2012 Conference (Sydney) Anita will be part of an author discussion panel on reading and literacy in Australia at the Australian Library and Information Association conference.
- July 24-26: Imagine the World: 2012 Public Libraries NSW Conference (Port Stephens, NSW) Anita will participate in a panel discussion on the topic of 'talking straight - Indigenous voices in literature' and also the positive power of reading in social inclusion, addressing poverty and building relationships.
Want to know more?
- You can follow Anita on twitter, befriend her on Facebook and check out her website and blog for regular updates and tour information.
- If you want to find out about all the National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page.
- Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing.