“This year has been quite incredible. It just seems like everything’s happening,” Winch says. “Publishers are taking this risk because it’s not a risk anymore. Our books are selling. But it’s tricky. Is the ‘woke’ Australian society just sort of realising we’re out there?
“When I’ve looked back, some of the most incredible work has come from the 1960s or ’70s. David Unaipon did publish in 1927… but his name wasn’t even attributed to that text [until much later]. The first Indigenous woman [to publish a book of verse], Oodgeroo Noonuccal, was published in 1964 with We Are Going, the poetry book. That’s a huge gap in time. Our voices were repressed for decades. It’s so ironic because we’re a nation of storytellers.”
Winch’s latest book, The Yield, is currently available in airports – something she says would never have happened in 2006 when she released her award-winning debut Swallow the Air. Publishing giant HarperCollins recently purchased the international rights to The Yield.
Judith Curr, the president and publisher of HarperCollins’ US imprints HarperOne, Amistad and HarperCollins Espanol, says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers are without a doubt gaining attention on the world stage.
“There is a general reawakening in the United States to the past, present and future realities of First Peoples’ lives and readers want to know more,” she says. “Mainstream publishers are more open to Indigenous stories of late … [and] US readers have always been interested in Australia.”
The appetite for Indigenous literature has even caught the attention of academics. Dr Paul Crosby, from Macquarie University’s Department of Economics, is trying to measure how demand has changed over the past decade. He hopes to hand down his findings next year.
“We’ve got a clear indication that there’s a renaissance in Indigenous literature at the moment,” he says. “There’s been some self-reporting in the industry but as for academic studies of this scale, it hasn’t happened before. It’s a fascinating area to be in. For arts funding, the more data and research we can give people, the better.”
Melissa Lukashenko is hesitant to use the term “renaissance”. Indigenous-owned and operated publisher Magabala Books, the publisher of Dark Emu, has been championing First Nation writers for decades. So, too, has the University of Queensland Press with its Black Australian Writing series.
“Mainstream publications are now setting up their own prizes in an attempt to get our books out there,” Lucashenko says. “They’re a bit late to the party… but there’s now more of a pool of writers to draw on. It’s also definitely not just books. There’s great comedy. It all adds up to a groundswell.”
As for where Indigenous literature is heading, Winch says readers can expect to see more books embracing Australia’s first languages, as well as fiction and non-fiction set in prisons.
“We are the most incarcerated people on earth,” she says. “We still have stories to tell. We don’t want to be written about. We want to write about ourselves. And we can do it so f—ing well.”
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald