Navayana will welcome 2015 by introducing two amazing Aboriginal authors to audiences in the subcontinent: Alexis Wright and Ali Cobby Eckermann. This will also be the first time that the First Peoples of Australia will be published in English in India.
Alexis Wright’s novels are set on an epic scale. Navayana is truly honoured to publish her 520-page opus, Carpentaria, which according to Time magazine belongs to ‘the classics sections of bookshelves’. The New York Times called it ‘a literary sensation’. The Publishers Weekly joined the chorus: ‘The drama unfolds with all the poetry and eclecticism of a Bob Dylan song.’
The novel offers a portrait of a fictional town called Desperance in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland, where whites have pushed the Aboriginal people to the margins. Wright takes us to a world where the duality of fact and fiction is ruptured. Arif Ayaz Parrey, former editor at Navayana, writes in a prefatory essay to the Navayana edition: ‘Such a world is difficult to begin with, as we struggle to enter to get to the facts of murder, rape, state and civic violence against aborigines. Like Toni Morrison before her, Wright presents life and death—particularly death—to us in a way which is non-European, even anti-European, without trying to be so.’ Carpentaria, which also deals with the entry of a mining company that turns the earth upside down and inside out, resonates powerfully with the war of resistance the Adivasis are waging in the heart of the subcontinent against corporate India.
Carpentaria was published by a small, independent press—Giramondo—after many big publishers had turned it down. And it went on to win almost every award: in 2007, Wright became the first Aboriginal writer to win the Miles Franklin Award outright (the highest literary award in Australia), the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Fiction, the Queensland Premier’s Award for Fiction, and the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year Award.
Ali Cobby Eckermann’s poetic memoir, Too Afraid to Cry, is not just her story but the story of the Stolen Generations of the Indigenous people of Australia. The poet and writer Meena Kandasamy says in the introduction to the Navayana edition of the book, ‘As Ali’s prose chokes you, her poetry tells you to remember to breathe.’ According to The Australian, this book ‘may change the way you think—about Australia, or about Aboriginal people’.
Ali, a powerhouse speaker, will also deliver the third Navayana Annual Lecture in two cities—Kolkata (13 January) and New Delhi (17 January). Earlier, in 2010, the Slovenian Marxist philosopher and bestselling author Slavoj Žižek delivered lectures in Kochi, Hyderabad and Delhi; in 2011, the iconic American civil rights thinker Angela Davis spoke in Pune and Delhi. Ali, on her part, will deliver a lecture entitled “Give Me Back My Mother’s Heart” at Jadavpur University about her experience of being ‘stolen’ and adopted by a white family, finding her birth mother, and eventually discovering the ancient anchors of her people, her ancestors. In Delhi, at the Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, her lecture is titled “The Kangaroo Is Dead At The Waterhole”. She will speak about how the ancestral lands of the Aborigines were devastated by development agendas and indiscriminate mining—euphemisms she will unpack at the lecture—and how these resulted in the separation of her mother from her grandmother, impacting three generations of her family. The launch of Ali’s memoir Too Afraid to Cry will be followed by a conversation with the sociologist Amita Baviskar.
Both Alexis Wright and Ali Cobby Eckermann will be in India as part of the ‘Literary Commons!’ project, an initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts. They will be attending the Kolkata and Jaipur literature festivals.