Maxine Beneba Clarke delivered a sensational opening address. She is an author and slam poet (I'm not really sure what that means exactly). Her speech was moving and powerful. Unexpectedly for me Maxine spoke of the importance of children seeing themselves in their books. She opened with a performance of her poem fairytale from Carrying the World (currently reading, my review coming soonish). It begins
the teacher reads snow white
in our fairytale
my daughter will scar herself
with household bleach tonight
crying mirror on the wall
erase this face as black as night
"Story is where empathy begins and children unseeing themselves in Australian Literature is unfortunately not an unusual introduction to story."
"Some Australian children learn very quickly that literature is a landscape they don't belong in, that books render them invisible. That their stories are not important."
Maxine was 19 before she was able to write a character that looked like herself. Extraordinary video of the Doll Test that she discusses. She also spoke of the spoken word community, the political difficulties of being published as a writer of colour in Australia, the economic realities of surviving as a writer in Australia- when our authors still earn an average of $12,000.
You can watch Maxine Beneba Clarke's MWF Opening Night address online in full, here.
The second part of the evening was the announcement of the Miles Franklin Award 2016.
After A.S Patric was named as winner two delightful fairies ran excitedly up to congratulate him.
And in a beautiful circle of life moment, Maxine Beneba Clarke had launched Black Rock White City at Readings St Kilda last year. Great to see the award go to a small publisher too, Transit Lounge based, rather appropriately, in Melbourne.