Interview by Ju Landeesse.
Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is the author of the dystopian series The Tribe for young adults, and has also written and illustrated a number of award-winning picture books. Find out more about Ambelin at her website: www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.
In one of your interviews for #LoveOzLit, you refer to a need to trust the story and to not get in its way. I also notice that much of your work features the element of transformation and I wondered if that was deliberate or if it relates to your trusting the story you’re working on?
In my culture, everything lives, including stories. That means to tell a story is a profound responsibility, and part of that responsibility is allowing the story to honour its own truths. Stories, like all life, are capable of unexpected transformations. Another part of that responsibility is to understand that not all stories are yours to tell – we all occupy a particular position in this world and that position informs our understanding but also places limits upon it, especially when it comes to the stories of cultures and identities not our own.
Are there any speculative projects (writing, art, appearances) that you’re working on presently that you can share any details with us?
I’m working on a new novel (YA, spec fic). It’s not part of The Tribe series – but like The Tribe series, it’s a work of Indigenous Futurisms, which is a form of storytelling where Indigenous creators use the spec fic genre to challenge colonialism and imagine Indigenous futures.
In recent years you’ve written for The Wheeler Centre about Indigenous storytellers, power and privilege, about Aboriginal storytelling and young people, and about the need for diverse stories in Australia. Have you noticed any changes in the number or nature of Indigenous storytellers and stories being produced and distributed to wider audiences since then?
Indigenous publishers (like Magabala Books) continue to do amazing work, and some small presses (like Fremantle Press and University of Queensland Press) also publish a significant list of Indigenous voices. But there’s been no fundamental shift in the literary industry more generally, either in relation to Indigenous authors or other diverse voices. Here’s the thing: as I’ve said before, a lack of diversity in literature is not a ‘diversity problem’. It’s a privilege problem, in that it is being caused by structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege one set of voices over another. That means that change is required at an individual and systemic level to address privilege before diverse voices will ever have a real chance of being heard. And this change needs to encompass the entire industry, not just publishers (as recent conversations in the US over the role of reviewers reminds us).
Part of this change involves being informed. I blogged recently about some things editors should know when editing books with Indigenous content, but much of what I said applies to the literary industry more generally.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
My friend from across the sea, fellow speculative fiction writer Zetta Elliott. We have only ever met in cyber-space and it would be so nice to connect in person.