Gamillaroi/Torres Strait Islander writer, actor and director Nakkiah Lui is leading a new generation of radical, inclusive, rebellious voices as she teams up with Australia’s largest independent publishers, Allen and Unwin, to create a new imprint, called JOAN.
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I’ve been completely overwhelmed by all the love for JOAN, my new imprint with @allenandunwin! JOAN is named after my grandmother, Joan, always used to say “what can you do if you can’t laugh?” The last night she was alive, I held her hand and she smiled at me from the hospital bed and told me “Smile, Ki, smile because what can you do if you can’t laugh”That was when I started writing. I thought I was trying to understand the world but really, I think I was trying to destroy it. Trying to break it to find hope. I started writing to try and find the laughter from the broken bits. Joan was funny, kind, vivacious, intelligent, bold, brave, curious, joyful, warm, angry, empathetic, unapologetic, and compassionate. I think about what she would be doing if she were alive today. Who would she be and what she’d be capable of. Joan… well, Joan was radical. I used to think if Joan were alive today, she’d change the world. I was wrong. Because Joan did change the world. She changed it for me. For my family. For the community around us. In a world that told people like my nana that they weren’t important, in a world that tried to silence the voices of people like my nana, Joan told her story with love and laughter, she created a whole new world full of possibility by living the story she wanted to tell: one where her family could reach for the stars. One where if the world tried to silence her children, her children would scream and laugh right back at it. With JOAN I want to continue a legacy of radical, inclusive rebellion that my ancestors created for me. I want JOAN to help create space for the voices that get pushed to the fringes, because when our most vulnerable follow their dreams, they create limitless dreams for the rest of us. We’ll be doing a biannual newsletter and will publish a handful of titles of the next year. We’ll take open submissions over the website and you can also sign up for the newsletter there! (Link in bio) SEND US YOUR SUBMISSIONS! Let’s break things! 💖✊🏽💖 (photo by the amazing @johnnyvision)
“I want JOAN to help create space for the voices that get pushed to the fringes, because when our most vulnerable follow their dreams, they create limitless dreams for the rest of us,” Lui said in a statement.
The imprint is named after her grandmother, Joan, who Lui said was “funny, kind, vivacious, intelligent, bold, brave, curious, joyful, warm, angry, empathetic, unapologetic and compassionate,” she was a woman who “changed the world.”
“She never let me forget that being able to read gives you such a sense of freedom in world,” Lui told Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum Deputy Editor Melanie Kembrey.
The imprint will commission books across a broad range of genres – a project which Lui called “a miracle.”
“I want JOAN to continue a legacy of radical, inclusive rebellion,” she said. “I want JOAN to help create space for the voices that challenge; exposing, critical voices. Voices that get formed in our community.”
The imprint comes from Lui’s years of creative inquisitions: “How do you hold the door open for people? Not only how do you hold the door open, but how do you tear the door down? A home for people whose voices can find a solidarity with what I have done and also find support there and not feel alone.”
Lui is set to work with a mix of freelance writers and editors, as well as internal members at Allen & Unwin, including publisher Kelly Fagan, who said JOAN would mark a new way of doing publishing.
“The value of Nakkiah joining A&U is manifold,” she said in a statement. “Not only does she bring her network, her reputation, her imagination and her artistic lens, but the creation of her imprint, JOAN, is a chance for A&U to explore new ways of publishing—new ways of doing publishing, new ways of thinking through the business of publishing, new ways of interrogating what publishing is, in 2020 Australia and beyond. This is an exciting time.”
Exciting time indeed, considering the racial homogeneity of the Australian publishing industry. A few years ago, Natalie Kon-yu wrote about the importance of championing voices outside the mainstream.
“In Australia, only certain stories are allowed to take centre stage in our literary culture,” she wrote. “The universal subject is still presumed to be a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual and fully-abled male.”
In September 2016, Muruwari author and playwright Jane Harrison noted that “while Australia’s Indigenous population is (now) only about 2.44%, Australian Indigenous writing ought to make up a much larger percentage of our national literature, as our national literature should reflect Australian cultural heritage.”
Publishing houses including Djed Press and Magabala Books celebrate and publish works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and People of Colour authors.
I failed to track down any survey that casts a nation-wide look at the racial demography of our publishing houses, but I suspect it might be not too dissimilar to the numbers in the US, where, as a piece in 2016 from The Guardian put it, is “blindingly white and female, with 79% of staff white and 78% women.”
JOAN is set to release its first titles in late 2021 or early 2022. Members of the public can make submissions of work email@example.com, as well as sign up for Lui’s biannual newsletter here.
FEATURE PHOTO: Johnny Diaz Nicolaidis