"These are the instructions set out for you, creaseless on your bed this morning: make yourself smooth / fill your caverns / trap the bugs all in your amber / melt your sandstone / fuse your backbone / sand down even your crescendos."

Alison Whittaker, Blakwork

A hybrid of poetry, memoir and social commentary, Alison Whittaker's Blakwork is a sharp, pointed reflection on the Indigenous Australian experience. Cultural genocide, deaths in custody, persistent racial stereotypes — Whittaker interrogates the many intersections of Indigenous identity, including as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. More than just a moral object, Blakwork is a young poet experimenting with her voice in ways that are bold, playful and inventive. 

Ahead of her appearance at the 2019 Sydney Writers' Festival, go between the lines with Alison Whittaker as she explores this year's theme and who she's looking forward to hearing from in the program. 

The theme of this year’s Festival is Lie to Me. How does this theme resonate with you and your work?

How do I lie? All representation involves lies — selection, curation, description — but the honesty of your work relies on what purpose you put it to. In my work, I’m weaving lots of little lies called poems. They lie about language, they lie about metaphors, they lie about timelines, and they lie if anyone tries to make them represent all First Nations. But they’re lies with the aim of truth-telling. Through lying about the English language by deliberately misusing it, we get closer to seeing colonial violence; through imagining a bad future with hope we can find our bad present and bring it hope. That’s blak writing, lies that tell a truth.

What’s on your own reading list ahead of the Festival? 

On my list are two yet-to-be-released, but highly anticipated works — Maxine Beneba Clarke, Magan Magan and Ahmed Yussuf’s Growing up African in Australia and Omar Sakr’s The Lost Arabs. On my re-read list is Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, a book that could never get enough accolades to acknowledge its power, but we should still try.

Who are you most excited to meet? 

Alexander Chee (wow) and Brittney Cooper (wow wow wow).

What’s the most interesting question you’ve been asked by an audience member?

There have been a few, but I can never remember them after the fact! The interesting ones pick up on the gaps in a yarn and slot right in — which is cruel, because that means the good ones are truly unremarkable.

Read more: An interview with Alison in Kill Your Darlings

Listen: Alison on Radio National with Daniel Browning


Find Alison at Sydney Writers' Festival