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Signposts: stories for our fragile times

Signposts Stories for our fragile times
12 August 2020

Join award-winning author Alexis Wright as she talks to some of Australia’s finest storytellers about catastrophe, resilience and hope.

About Signposts

We are living in increasingly fragile times. Social and economic inequalities endure, our natural world is being destroyed, and forced migration leaves millions displaced. Writers have always taken inspiration from their environments – so what kind of stories will emerge from these uncertain times?

Signposts: Stories for our fragile times is a new web series presented in partnership with The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts.

About Alexis Wright

Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The author of the prize-winning novels Carpentaria and The Swan Book, Wright has published three works of non-fiction: Take Power, an oral history of the Central Land Council; Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in the Northern Territory; and Tracker, an award-winning collective memoir of Aboriginal leader, Tracker Tilmouth. Her books have been published widely overseas, including in China, the US, the UK, Italy, France and Poland. She holds the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne. Wright is the only author to win both the Miles Franklin Award (in 2007 for Carpentaria) and the Stella Prize (in 2018 for Tracker).

Watch episode four: Christos Tsiolkas

When Christos Tsiolkas was a child, his father, knowing that his son loved to read, would proudly pick up two paperbacks for him from a bookshop on Bridge Road every payday. His picks were eclectic – unable to read the English titles, he would grab everything from Dickens to Mills and Boon – but they fuelled a broad and voracious appetite for books in the young Christos. When asked to consider how he became the writer he is today, the answer comes easily: 'by being a reader'.

Here, Alexis Wright sits down with Christos Tsiolkas to talk about family, doubt, storytelling, looking for God in low places, and the thrill of escaping from the world to fully immerse yourself in research for a new novel. The episode concludes with a reading from Tsiolkas’ award-winning 2019 novel, Damascus.

Christos Tsiolkas is a Melbourne-based playwright, essayist, film critic and award-winning author of six novels ane one short story collection. His works have been adapted to both big and small screens. His debut novel Loaded (1995) was made into the feature film Head On starring Alex Dimitriades. His third novel Dead Europe, which won The Age Book of the Year fiction award, was also adapted for cinema. His 2008 novel The Slap is possibly his best known, taking as its starting point a suburban barbecue in which a man slaps someone else’s child, and exploring the effects it has on the families who witnessed it. The book won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and was made into an ABC mini-series, and was then adapted for an American audience. Barracuda (2013) was also adapted as a mini-series. Christos has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and been awarded the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal. His most recent novel, Damascus, won the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Fiction. Christos’ work has been published extensively overseas as well as in Australia, and The Slap has been translated into 22 other languages. Christos is also well known for his advocacy on queer issues and on behalf of the migrant and refugee community, specifically through his journalism. He has been a Cultural Ambassador for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre since 2013 and is also a patron of Writers Victoria.

Watch episode three: Melissa Lucashenko

Melissa Lucashenko discusses success, her writing process and the enormous shifts she has observed in the Australian literary readership during her career.

Lucashenko shares her experiences as an Aboriginal author, and offers advice to young writers living through this challenging moment: 'Be brave – the truth has a quality in it that will protect you.'

She also reads from her 2019 Miles Franklin Award-winning novel Too much lip, described by Stella Prize judges as ‘a fearless, searing and unvarnished portrait of generational trauma cut through with acerbic humour'.

Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage. Since 1997, Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer. Her recent work has appeared in The Moth: Fifty true stories, Meanjin, Griffith Review and The Saturday Paper. Melissa’s Griffith Review essay, 'Sinking below sight: Down and out in Brisbane and Logan' won the 2013 Walkley Award for Long Form Journalism. Her most recent novel, Too much lip, was awarded the 2019 Miles Franklin Award and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize, the Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing, the NSW Premier’s Multicultural Award and the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Literature.

Watch episode two: Peter Carey

Lately, Peter Carey has been feeling as through he’s living in one of his early short stories about collapsing, oppressive societies: 'The time we’re in now feels like the sort of things I was terrified of and imagined when I was in my 20s and 30s'.

In episode two of Signposts: stories for our fragile times, the much-lauded and prolific Carey sits down with host Alexis Wright to share what life has been like in the turbulent 'whirlpool' of his adopted home town, New York City, why storytelling will always flourish despite adversity, and the process of addressing the repercussions of Australia’s brutal colonial past in his most recent book A Long Way from Home.

To close the episode, Carey offers a rare reading from his work, bringing to life the voices of two characters that lived against the odds: Irene Bobs, from A Long Way from Home, and Ned Kelly himself, as featured in Carey’s Booker-winning 2000 novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, recently adapted for television.

Peter Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, and now lives in New York. He is the author of fourteen novels (including one for children), two volumes of short stories, and two books on travel. Amongst other prizes, Carey has won the Booker Prize twice (for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize twice (for Jack Maggs and True History of the Kelly Gang, and the Miles Franklin Literary Award three times (for Bliss, Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs. He is an officer of the Order of Australia and a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Watch episode one: Nicholas Jose

Authors Alexis Wright and Nicholas Jose discuss the fascinating history of the Song Cycle of the Moon Bone. It’s a story of renewal: of life, of nature, and of people. With the symbol of the cyclical moon at its heart, the Song Cycle and its translated poem have been offering lessons on resilience and return for generations.

With special thanks to Buwathay Muyarryun, Siena Stubbs and the Mulka Project at Buku-Larrŋggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, East Arnhem, for their contributions to this episode.

Nicholas Jose is an Australian author best-known for his fiction and cultural essays. His seven novels and three collections of short stories include Paper Nautilus, The Red Thread and Original Face. His acclaimed memoir Black Sheep: Journey to Borroloola appeared in 2002. He was general editor of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2009) and has written widely on contemporary Australian and Asian art and literature. He was Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University, 2009-10, and is an adjunct professor with the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University and in the School of Humanities at The University of Adelaide, where he was previously Chair of Creative Writing.