Books & Literature

Book Review: maar bidi: Next Generation Black Writing, edited by Elfie Shiosaki & Linda Martin

ANTHOLOGY: An evocative & poignant anthology of prose and fiction from a diverse group of young black writers.

This anthology is exciting because it escapes prediction and assumption.

Don’t define us through the lens of disadvantage.

Test us. Expect the best of us. Expect the unexpected.

These are excerpts from The Imagination Declaration.

The Declaration is a challenge laid down for Australia’s Prime Minister and our Education ministers. It was written by 65 Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from years six to 12 who joined voices at a Youth Forum at the Garma Festival in East Arnhem Land in August last year. It is a powerful message of empowerment and hope for the future.

Inspired by this united message, the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia ran a series of creative writing workshops and have now published an exciting new anthology from nine participating young indigenous authors.

The anthology is exciting because it escapes prediction and assumption, offering a broad and ultimately, uplifting view of the world from a unique perspective that is rarely heard. Featuring short pieces of poetry, prose and fiction – most being less than a page in length – these budding authors voice their dreams, frustrations, fears and advice to those brave enough to listen.

Topics include some of the expected themes of culture, identity and land, but the book also expands to broader issues such as climate change, women’s issues, being white, rape, family and young love. Some contributions are daring and beg for further discussion in classrooms, none more so than Savannah Cox’s poem, The Lucky Country (page 77). It questions the lyrics of the Australian nation anthem: our country of ‘beauty, rich and rare’ being owned by foreign countries; our land being not so ‘young and free’; and our ‘golden soil and wealth for toil’ coming from digging up the land and destroying it for economic demand. Powerful, thought-provoking stuff.

But even the tougher topics unveil themselves with a sense of deep thought. None of the entries are whining or playing victim. They each show a mind at work, interpreting and working through the issues at hand.

Nancy Murray’s 27 Jan 2017 (page 43) perhaps sums up the entire anthology best in her closing words:

I want to live beautifully
As in I want to find beauty in everything.

And maar bidi is a beautiful piece of work.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Distributed by: Magabala Books
Released: November 2020
RRP: $24.99

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