Six Books Made The Shortlist for Australia's Inaugural 2016 Indigenous Writer's Prize

For a glimpse into what Indigenous-authored books are rising to the top in Australia, check out the shortlist for the inaugural 2016 Indigenous Writer's Prize. Based out of Sydney Australia, the biennial prize "acknowledges the contribution made to Australian literary culture by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers," and awards the winner with AUD $30,000. 

Six literary works are shortlisted: 

Ghost River by Tony Birch (Buy)

The river is a place of history and secrets. For Ren and Sonny, two unlikely friends, it's a place of freedom and adventure. For a group of storytelling vagrants, it's a refuge. And for the isolated daughter of a cult reverend, it's an escape.

Each time they visit, another secret slips into its ancient waters. But change and trouble are coming – to the river and to the lives of those who love it. Who will have the courage to fight and survive and what will be the cost?

Inside My Mother by Alice Cobby Eckermann

In her memoir Too Afraid to Cry, published in 2013, Indigenous poet Ali Cobby Eckermann related how she had been tricked away from her mother as a baby, repeating the trauma her mother had suffered when she was taken from her grandmother many years before. Eckermann in turn had to give her own child up for adoption. In her new poetry collection, Inside my Mother, she explores the distance between the generations created by such experiences, felt as an interminable void in its darkest aspects, marked by sadness, withdrawal, yearning and mistrust, but in other ways a magical place ‘beyond the imagination’, lit by dreams and visions of startling intensity, populated by symbolic presences and scenes of ritual and commemoration, chief amongst them the separation and reunion of mother and child. Though the emotions are strong, they are expressed simply and with a sense of significance in nature which reminds one of the poetry of Oodgero Noonuccal, whose successor Eckermann is.

Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin

Dirty Words, an A to Z index of poetry, is a restless offering; an unfolding that may begin on any page. This to-ing and fro-ing of observation is an un-binding of sorts; a mournful rage with beauty and deep love between the lines to disrupt and transcend the pain and disdain. This book is a reminder that what is (re)produced and (re)presented for general consumption, by institutions of power, is often steeped in myth-making and persistent colonial ideology. This small contemplation on nation and history is informed by blood-memory and an uncanny knowing beyond what we are officially told; a reminder of multiple lived-histories, of other ways of knowing and being in this world. Our elders and ancestors fought for the right to exist and speak up into the future – there are traces and signs, and there was always resistance. Dirty Words is my ‘note-to-self’ to speak up, to unsettle and to be brave; to not be silent when another voice would be easier or expected. There is still work to be done, and difficult conversations to have. Hidden stories can be honoured, exposed and shared, and there is always poetry.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (Buy)

Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the 'hunter-gatherer' tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.

Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven

In this award-winning work of fiction, Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real.

Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. In 'Heat', we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. In 'Water', van Neerven offers a futuristic imagining of a people whose existence is under threat. While in 'Light', familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom and a sense of belonging.

Heat and Light presents a surprising and unexpected narrative journey while heralding the arrival of an exciting new talent in Australian writing.

Not Just Black and White by Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams (Buy)

Two remarkable women tell an inspirational story about the power of family and pursuing your dreams.

Lesley Williams is forced to leave Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement and her family a young age to work as a domestic servant. Apart from a bit of pocket money, Lesley never sees her wages – they are kept 'safe' for her and for countless others just like her. She is taught not to question her life, until desperation makes her start to wonder, where is all that money she earned? So begins a nine-year journey for answers which will test every ounce of her resolve.

Inspired by her mother's quest, a teenage Tammy Williams enter a national writing competition with an essay about injustice. Winning first prize takes Tammy and Lesley to Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch and ultimately to the United Nations in Geneva. Along the way, they find courage they never thought they had, and friendship in the most unexpected places.

Told with honesty and humour, Not Just Black and White is an extraordinary memoir about two women determined to make sure history is not forgotten.

Each shortlisted book sounds like a great read and would serve as a good insight into the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters in Australia. Each book here is linked to the individual publishers page in case you want to find out how you may get your hands on any given book.

Note: Links to buy are from IndieBound. Not all of these books are eligible to buy here in the States.