Race, religion & identity
The Wheeler Centre
Rachel Kushner: The Mars Room
Ellena Savage and Rachel Kushner on stage — Photo: Scott Limbrick
‘This is a story that gets to the root of how my society is structured right now … There’s a way that prison is invisible to a middle-class person. It’s not a conspiracy, but it may be by design in certain regards. It’s a serious subject for a novelist.’
Rachel Kushner is among America’s brightest literary stars. With her previous, highly acclaimed novels, Telex from Cuba (about American expatriates in 1950s pre-Castro Cuba) and The Flamethrowers (about radical New York artists in the seventies), she explored two very different scenes of ideological chaos and confusion, with exhilarating prose and virtuosic storytelling.
Kushner's latest novel, The Mars Room, sees her applying her talents, once again, to probing the political context and meaning of a very specific time and place. This time, it’s the American prison system, and it's the present day. The Mars Room is about a woman serving two life sentences for killing her stalker and it’s the product of years of research, and close collaboration with Americans who have themselves served time.
In conversation with Ellena Savage for our Mayhem series in April 2019, the extraordinary Kushner talks crime, punishment and American institutions.
Books and Ideas at Montalto
Tony Birch is among Australia’s finest living writers. A poet, activist and academic, as well as an acclaimed novelist and short-story writer, Birch’s writing is concerned with Australians, especially Indigenous Australians, living life on the fringes. He writes, too, about the dark shadow cast by the state in the everyday lives of marginalised people.
In 2017, he became the first Aboriginal writer to win the Patrick White Award, in recognition of his invaluable body of work, including the novels Blood and Ghost River and the short-story collections, Common People and The Promise. His new book, The White Girl, is about the Stolen Generations, set in 1960s rural Australia. It’s the story of Odette, and her fair-skinned granddaughter, who she must protect from authorities at all costs.
At Montalto, he joins Michael Williams for a conversation about writing, research and the politics of prejudice – then and now.
The Wheeler Centre
The Show of the Year 2019
Content note: This podcast episode contains some strong language, and mentions violence and child sexual abuse.
As the decade turns, The Show of the Year marks 2019 in style – with host Casey Bennetto and a glittering line-up of writers, comedians and musicians. Paul Kelly, Nath Valvo, Alice Bishop, Sista Zai Zanda, Margot Morales Tanjutco, Laura Jean, Alice Gorman, Evelyn Araluen, The Merindas, Brodie Lancaster, Louise Milligan and Bill Shorten share their thoughts on subjects as various as the decommissioning of the Opportunity Rover on Mars, the Tigers' premiership run, the death of Toni Morrison, The Masked Singer and the closure of Uluru to tourists.
Select an image to view in detail
Select an image to view in detail
What a year. Protests shook Hong Kong, the Amazon caught fire and children led a worldwide climate strike. Boris Johnson picked up the prime ministerial ball as it came loose from the back of the scrum, Scott Morrison baseball-capped his way back into government, and Trump impeachment talk turned to (some) action.
We said goodbye to towering figures in literature and politics, including Toni Morrison, Bob Hawke, Les Murray, Clive James and Mary Oliver. And we farewelled meowing figures of the internet. (R.I.P. Grumpy Cat.)
There were the mandatory Big Cultural Moments, too: someone (no spoilers) finally won the Game of Thrones, Fleabag stormed the Emmys, and a Sydney real estate video went viral. Beyoncé came home, Fyre Festival blew up (again) and Lil Nas X shot to stardom via TikTok. Ah yes, how could we forget: TikTok.
Goodbye 2019 … we hardly knew ye!
The Wheeler Centre
Claire G. Coleman: The Old Lie
Tyson Yunkaporta and Claire G. Coleman at the Wheeler Centre
Claire G. Coleman believes speculative fiction is a powerful political tool. ‘It’s a genre in which there’s great scope for Aboriginal literature … It’s able to sneak politics into places people don’t expect to see it.'
Coleman's revelatory 2017 debut novel, Terra Nullius, depicted an alternative Australia – a continent of either the distant past or the distant future – with an entire, brutal ‘future history’ constructed in meticulous detail. The novel received local and international critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize.
Every Aboriginal piece of literature is apocalyptic, because Aboriginal people are a post-apocalyptic people.
With Coleman's new book, The Old Lie, she returns to themes of invasion, dispossession and apocalypse. Again, it's a novel of startling and alarming twists. And again, it's an outstanding contribution to the growing body of superb speculative fiction from Aboriginal authors, also including Alexis Wright and Ellen van Neerven.
For this conversation, Coleman is joined by Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. The pair discuss craft, creativity and Indigenous imaginations. Does speculative fiction have in-built critical mechanisms that especially serve Indigenous authors?
The Fifth Estate: Samantha Power on Influence and Idealism
How does a person navigate the change from activist outsider to influential insider? How do you balance idealism and pragmatism under pressure?
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Samantha Power has had to navigate these questions first-hand. From a troubled childhood in Dublin to a career as a war correspondent then academic, she landed at the heart of American politics in 2005 –…
12 Flight from Manus
Aziz, in a hotel room facing onto Genève-Cornavin railway station — Photo: Michael Green
'I just feel like I left my soul back there, you know. Personally I'm here, but my heart is still in Manus.'– Abdul Aziz Muhamat
Aziz is shortlisted for a major international prize, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The ceremony is in Geneva, Switzerland. Improbably, the prize’s organisers secretly arrange permission for him to leave Manus Island to attend the event.
In this episode, Aziz finally – temporarily – escapes Papua New Guinea, five and a half years after the Australian government took him there against his will. But he has no proper passport or visa, and no idea what to expect.
After years of exile and captivity, how will it feel to visit Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world? And can Aziz make any difference for those who remain stuck on Manus Island and Nauru?Transcript
A transcript of this episode is available here (PDF format).
The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders
In this episode
Abdul Aziz MuhamatMichael Green Michael Khambatta Hans Thoolen
Our theme music was composed by Raya Slavin. Music used in this episode is by Hour House (Mark Leacy and Sam Kenna).
The Messenger is a co-production of Behind the Wire and the Wheeler Centre. This episode was originally commissioned and produced for the ABC Radio National programme, Earshot. It was produced by Michael Green. The supervising producer was Lyn Gallacher. The sound engineer was Melissa May.
Narration by Michael Green. Additional editing and mixing by Jon Tjhia.
André Dao, Jon Tjhia, Hannah Reich, Bec Fary and Sophie Black. Thanks also to Camilla Chapman, Cecilia Cannon and Sean Cole, and to Behind the Wire's many participants and volunteers. Michael Green's travel to Papua New Guinea was supported by a grant from the Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund.
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