Presented as part of the Literary Studies Seminar Series.
Imogen Mathew will speak about "Middleground as Battleground? Rethinking Indigenous Literary Success".
At first glance, Anita Heiss, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Sally Morgan have little in common. In recent decades, Heiss has risen to prominence as a glamorous writer of commercial women’s fiction, referring to herself as Koori Bradshaw and her fiction as ‘choc lit’. Sally Morgan is best known for her 1987 autobiography My Place, widely embraced by the Australian reading public but drawing considerable ire from academia. And Oodgeroo Noonuccal was a poet of national significance: when We are Going was published in 1964, it sold out in three days, better than anything since C.J. Dennis’ Moods of Ginger Mick in 1916.
Despite their differences across time, space and genre, I argue these authors have far more in common than may first appear. In particular, my interest is drawn to the fact that all three achieved considerable mainstream literary success; as Heiss notes in Dhuuluu-Yala, such success is all the more noteworthy given the structural and institutional difficulties Indigenous writers face. In drawing this comparison, I suggest a recalibration of Indigenous literary history. If mainstream Indigenous literary success can be seen as an effective tool of political action, it also foregrounds Heiss as the inheritor of a tradition that runs from the venerable, much-loved Oodgeroo through the more the problematic and contested Morgan.
Imogen Mathew is a doctoral candidate in English in the SLLL. This paper will be presented at the American Association of Australian Literary Studies conference in April 2015.