Introducing Anita Heiss

Anita HeissDr Anita Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales and is one of Australia’s most prolific and well-known Indigenous authors.

Her published works include the historical novel Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937, the poetry collection Token Koori, satirical social commentary Sacred Cows, non-fiction text Dhuuluu-Yala (To Talk Straight) – Publishing Aboriginal Literature, and a children’s book entitled Me and My Mum. Anita has also edited editions of Southerly, Five Bells and the anthology Life in Gadigal Country.

In 2007 Anita released three titles: Not Meeting Mr Right (Random House) for which she won the Deadly Award for Outstanding Contribution to Literature. Her poetry collection also released in 2007 I’m not racist, but… a collection of social observations (Salt Publishing) won the Scanlon Prize for Indigenous Poetry. The kids novel Yirra and her deadly dog Demon (ABC Books), was launched at the 2007 Sydney Writers' Festival by Her Excellency Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW.

Anita has performed her works nationally (Sydney Writers’ Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Adelaide Writers’ Week, Byron Bay Writers’ Festival,  Wordstorm, Dreaming Festival, Message Sticks, Brisbane Writers' Festival, Melbourne Poetry Festival, Brisbane Poetry Festival, among others) and internationally in Spain, Austria, the USA, Canada, Fiji, Japan, Aotearoa / New Zealand and New Caledonia. She has also been published widely in journals, anthologies and on-line.

Anita was Communications Adviser for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board (2001-2003), was a member of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Committee of Management from 1998-2004 and 2007 – present. She was Deputy Director of Warawara Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University from 2005-2006.

In 2003 in recognition of her literary achievements Anita was awarded the ASA Medal for Under 35s for her contribution to Australian community and public life. In 2004 she was awarded the NSW Indigenous Arts Fellowship and was listed in The Bulletin magazine’s “Smart 100”. She was also nominated for a 2004 Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature.

In 2004, Anita wrote and directed her first short-film “Checkerboard Love” as part of the Lester Bostock mentorship program through Metro Screen, Sydney. She was also writer in residence at Macquarie University.

Anita has made guest appearances on the Einstein Factor, Message Stick, Vulture, Critical Mass, Difference of Opinion, The Catch Up and 9am with David and Kim.

Anita is currently the Coordinator of the AustLit - Black Words subset (http://www.austlit.edu.au/specialistDatasets/BlackWords).  She is the Chair of Gadigal Information Services / Koori Radio in Sydney
(http://www.gadigal.org.au/Index.aspx) and Deputy Chair of the Australian Society of Authors (http://www.asauthors.org/).

Anita’s poetry

Poems from I'm not racist but…a collection of social observations (Salt Publishing, 2007):

  • I'm Not Racist But coverMy Other
  • Making Aborigines (Inspired by Michael McDaniel)
  • Expectations (with respects to Phil Kawana)
  • The Creator’s Prayer

Download the poems in PDF

(Permission to reprint these poems obtained from Salt Publishing).


Spotlight on editor, Anita Heiss

1. Of all the art forms why literature?
Let’s see – 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. So literature seemed the best option for me. Also, I think writing is a useful way to reach one of many audiences. In academia novels are analysed, and in classrooms at schools kids use books to assist their literacy development. People read books on trains and buses and at the beach. Books are read in the bath and in bed and so on. Books are also a less confrontational way to engage with audiences. If a reader doesn’t like what they are reading, they can put the book down and come back to it later. You can’t do that with a cinematic or theatre experience. You can read and re-read a passage over to understand it better; you can’t do that with live performance.

2. You write across genres, which one do you enjoy most?
I’d have to say fiction is the most enjoyable because you have the freedom to give dialogue to characters who can say the things Anita Heiss might want to say but would never say in public. You can create scenarios that are larger than life to bring added humour to the page and a smile to the reader. And fiction also allows you to write about certain issues and topics in a way that doesn’t identify individuals or communities, so they are kept shielded while their stories can still be told.

3. What is your major goal as a writer?
My main goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible, and in doing so, have my words force people to think about the way they behave, how their actions can impact on people immediately without even realising it, and in that way words can effect social change for Aboriginal peoples, not only in Australia, but all around the world.

4. What or whom would you say influences your writing most? I’m not sure if it’s influence or inspiration but I draw a lot of my concepts and material from everyday conversations and experiences, both positive and negative. I am inspired by the strength and wisdom of those who have gone before me; our warriors throughout history, and our elders today who have lived through horrific times and still manage to laugh, smile and be grateful for the small mercies in their lives. My own need to have my writing accepted by the Aboriginal community in which I live, and the community I am expected to represent to the wider world, also influences the writing I produce.

5. What role does Indigenous literature play in Australian society today? Indigenous literature provides a platform for this country’s First Nations people who are essentially still voiceless in the 21st century. Our poetry, our novels, our life-stories are all saying “this is who we are, this is what we aspire to, this is how we want to be identified, this is how we can work together, and this is why the history of this country is important to all of us.” Indigenous Australia is the first story of this nation, we must therefore be a major part of the storytelling.

6. If you could recommend only one book, what would it be?
The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature of course! It’s about as close as you’re ever going to get to experiencing Aboriginal voices en masse speaking about representation, history, culture and politics!

Anita’s weblinks:

Anita Heiss: http://www.anitaheiss.com/

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/tokenkoori

Lateral Learning Booking Agency:
http://www.laterallearning.com.au/authors/heiss.html

Curtis Brown (Australia) Literary Agents: http://www.curtisbrown.com.au/client-detail.asp?id=223