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Amplifying First Nations voices: Magabala, UQP and Thames & Hudson share their latest titles

From exciting new releases to major international rights sales, First Nations publishing in Australia continues to go from strength to strength.

Australian Indigenous publisher Magabala Books has had a stellar start to the year. After recently engaging local rights agency The Rights Hive to handle its international sales, the publisher has sold US and UK rights to Julie Janson’s 2020 novel Benevolence—a work of historical fiction that explores the colonial experience from an Indigenous perspective—to HarperCollins imprint HarperVia.

Benevolence transports readers back to 1800s Sydney and the Hawkesbury River, the home of the Darug people, where we witness the colonial experience through the eyes of Darug woman Muraging (Mary James). Born around 1813, Muraging is among the earliest Darug generations to experience the impact of British colonisation—a time of cataclysmic change and violence, but also of remarkable survival and resistance.

‘Julie Janson’s intensely visual prose interweaves historical events with detailed characterisation—she shatters stereotypes and gives voice to an Aboriginal experience of early settlement,’ said the publisher.

HarperVia has previously acquired novels from some of Australia’s leading Indigenous authors, including Miles Franklin–winners The Yield (Tara June Winch, Hamish Hamilton) and Too Much Lip (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP).

For Magabala publisher Rachel Bin Salleh, selling international rights to Magabala’s titles has important cultural and financial implications. ‘Magabala Books is committed to getting our creators to all ends of the earth, in as many languages as possible—including traditional Aboriginal languages—and exposing everyone to many unique and breathtaking ways of thinking,’ she says. ‘It would also be nice to make money for our creators, so that they may be on par with their peers in this industry. For too long we have been marginalised from being able to benefit fiscally from this space. Magabala Books would like to help change that narrative.’

UQP also has a long history of publishing First Nations authors. The winner of this year’s Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for Small Publisher of the Year, the publisher was praised by judges for its undertakings in support of diverse publishing, and its championing of titles by First Nations authors. Rights manager Kate McCormack is particularly excited to be pitching two award-winning authors’ latest novels.

Tony Birch’s 2020 novel The White Girl—which tells the story of Odette Brown and her granddaughter Sissy—‘shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families’. It has been steadily selling into overseas territories: HarperVia has acquired world English rights (ex ANZ), and Arabic and Danish rights have also been sold.

The other title is Larissa Behrendt’s After Story, a ‘unique and ground-breaking new novel that follows a bus tour to the classic English literary sites through the lens of an Indigenous Australian mother and daughter’. It’s due to be published in July 2021.

New in nonfiction

With Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book Dark Emu (Magabala) still high in the Australian nonfiction bestsellers chart, Thames & Hudson Australia has commissioned a series of nonfiction books that explore different areas of Indigenous expertise, including one co-authored by Pascoe.

The ‘First Knowledges’ series is a collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers and editors, edited by Margo Neale, senior Indigenous curator at the National Museum of Australia. Thames & Hudson Australia will be pitching the first three titles to international publishers this year.

Songlines (Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly, 2020) shows how knowledge can be embedded in song and performance, and how it can aid learning and memory; Design (Alison Page & Paul Memmott, May 2021) explores how design and architecture can build and support healthy communities; and Country (Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage, October 2021) reveals how respect of land will lead to environmental care and sustainability.

Thames & Hudson Australia believes these areas of expertise from the world’s longest continuing culture will have universal appeal. ‘These skills have ensured survival for millennia: for people and country, and all that live on it,’ said the publisher. ‘These knowledges have adapted but now, when it is clear the world needs to do things differently, it is contemporary application of these practices and ways of thinking that might offer solutions to urgent problems.’


Category: Think Australian newsletter Feature