Claire G. Coleman talks her new book out on Indigenous Literacy Day

Author Claire G. Colman

Jessica Taylor Yates with Claire G. Coleman

Posted September 01, 2021


Today is Indigenous Literacy Day, celebrating stories and language. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation aims to ‘provide a window into the richness, diversity and multilingual world of First Nations peoples.’

This year, the storytelling will be provided through a selection of ‘inspiring video stories’ by First Nations storytellers around the country. NITV presenter and Indigenous Literacy Foundation Ambassador Natalie Ahmat has stated that it is ‘an opportunity to advocate, promote and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, stories, and language.’

With this in mind, we were fortunate to communicate with Noongar woman and prize-winning author Claire G. Coleman, the winner of the black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship, the Griffith Review Novella Project 2020 and the Norma K Hemming Award for a Long Work award (just to name a few). Coleman also sits on the cultural advisory committee for the not-for-profit Indigenous Arts Consultancy Agency, has appeared on countless radio, podcast and television programs, and is the successful author of novels, poetry, and short stories. On September 1st, she is venturing into new terrain with her first non-fiction book, Lies, Damned Lies.


Interview with Claire G. Coleman

Congratulations on your latest book, Lies, Damned Lies. Tell us about it.

Lies, Damned Lies was my attempt to encapsulate and explain a lot of what I know about Australia’s colonial experiment. After years of research and writing, I came to the conclusion that colonisation is a process. In Australia’s case, colonisation started in 1788, but has not finished. The idea that we are post-colonial, a concept raised without evidence or explanation, is only one of the many lies built into the culture and history of this continent.

What made you decide to delve into the world of non-fiction?

Since Terra Nullius, my first novel, I have produced many shorter works of non-fiction, essays and opinion pieces unpacking and questioning the history of this colony and how the people of the land are treated. Rather than suddenly delving into non-fiction, my new book seems to be the next natural progression of my work.

What country did you write it on? Does this influence your writing?

I wrote Lies, Damned Lies on Wurundjeri Country, because it’s so hard to travel right now, but it was heavily influenced by my travels around the continent. Where I am nearly always influences my writing, but less so in this case, because this time I was writing about how things have been over the last few years, so everywhere is embedded in it.

What is your process for storytelling?

I don’t have much of a process, not one that is recognisable to other people at least. I generally think of an idea and think it through until I can’t think any more or until an imminent deadline forces me to get stuck in faster than planned. Entire books seem to sit in my head, complete, waiting for me to put my fingers to the keyboard.

Were there any other authors that influenced you as you wrote?

Rather than being influenced by other authors Lies, Damned Lies was influenced by Aboriginal Reggae music and First Nations oral histories, including stories from my own family.

Indigenous author Claire G Coleman and her book Lies, Damned Lies

Left: Noongar woman and prize-winning author Claire G. Coleman. Right: her latest non-fiction release, Lies, Damned Lies, available from September 1. Images used with permission, taken by: Lily Marc.


 

Did this bring up certain themes for you during the writing process?

One thing reinforced during the writing process, that I picked up from my research and from the music blasting out of my speakers, was that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from remote communities, far from the cities, are more political than non-Indigenous Australians imagine them to be.

What are you hoping for with the release of this book?

I hope that my book can change the discourse in Australia and improve the country’s understanding of the true history of this colony. [The education of] history and understanding in Australia is terrible, and I want the myths and misconceptions to die off. I hope I have helped that happen.

As well as the release of the book, you’re also running an online workshop on speculative fiction as part of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. What can budding writers expect out of this session?

Speculative fiction is a powerful tool, it can be used to change culture, it can do good and it can do evil. I hope to help attendees to understand not just the power of speculative fiction, but how to harness that power.

September 1st is your book release and is also Indigenous Literacy Day. What does this mean to you?

Illiteracy can be crippling, there can be little doubt that literacy opens doors and provides opportunities. There’s something else people might not know about. I, like many other Indigenous people, have discovered and interrogated my family history through books and the archives. In addition, our culture is stored in written form, stories can be salvaged from the written archive. Without literacy, I would not have had the opportunity to learn from books and written stories.

It’s important others be given those opportunities.

How do you think Indigenous authors and budding writers can be better represented? What can we all be doing?

The most important thing for people to do is buy books by Indigenous writers. Not only will this offer the readers a perspective they might not otherwise have access to, but it will also increase the market for our books, which might encourage publishers to publish more. Go out, buy a book by an Indigenous writer, buy Indigenous-written books for your kids or kids you know. It will help you understand and might change the world.

Celebrating Indigenous Literacy Week

Coleman advises that the best thing you can do to support Indigenous Literacy Day and the wider need for Indigenous representation is to buy books by Indigenous writers. Image: Getty. 


 

What are some Indigenous books you would recommend?

It’s really hard to choose just some Indigenous books, but some I recommend, in no particular order are:

 

  • Benang, by Kim Scott – A Miles Franklin award winning masterpiece by another Noongar author. It’s a heavy read, but one of my favourite books of all time.
  • Terra Nullius – My first novel, I think it has a lot to say.
  • Lemons in the Chicken Wire by Alison Whittaker – A masterpiece of poetry by a truly awesome woman.
  • Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta – A wild ride through Aboriginal philosophy, science and knowledge systems.
  • Heroes, Rebels and Innovators by Karen Wyld – A children’s non-fiction history book about the inspiring Indigenous people you probably haven’t heard of.

We thank Claire for dedicating her time. You can book a preorder for Lies, Damned Lies online. Claire will also be featuring her online workshop at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, limited tickets still available here.

You can also continue to support the work and stories of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation here.


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