Dr. Anita Heiss is an author of both fiction and non-fiction works and also writes poetry, social commentary, and travel articles. She is a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales and she travels around the world lecturing on Indigenous culture. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Heiss about her books and what advice she would give to aspiring young authors.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up in Australia?
I’m one of five and grew up in a coastal suburb of Sydney called Matraville. I walk to my local beach at Maroubra in about twenty minutes, and it takes about the same amount of time to drive to the heart of the city and the best harbour in the world (yes, I am biased!). I still live 400m from the family home.
Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a writer? I was a fantastic pen pal as a teenager and loved writing letters generally. I had fleeting aspirations of being a journalist in my later years of school, but it was my time as an undergraduate at the University of New South Wales. It was during my Honours year that I had my epiphany and decided I needed to write my first book, Sacred Cows, which is a satirical social commentary on Australian society and culture.
Had you visited New York before you wrote Manhattan Dreaming? Did the city inspire the book or were you planning to write about New York before you even arrived?
I made my first trip to Manhattan in 1995 when I was working in Kahnawake, Quebec. I stayed in Brooklyn for the weekend, went to Shea Stadium to see my first baseball game, and I shopped, a lot. I remember thinking at the time that there were a lot of yellow cabs!
I went back to NYC for quick visits on work trips in 2004 and 2005 and found new reasons to love the city that never sleeps. But it was in 2008 when I spent ten days staying in SoHo with Aussie author Lily Brett that I saw a side of the city I had never experienced before. I fell in love with Manhattan because for the first time in my life I felt at home somewhere other than my own city. And the dating culture in NYC was significantly different to what I had ever experienced in Australia – where there is NO dating culture at all. I realised I needed to set a book Downtown. And that’s where the Manhattan Dreaming seed was first sown.
What is it that drew you to New York? Could you see yourself moving to America permanently?
New York has a soul like no other city in the world, and I say that with a firm commitment to my own home city of Sydney! Walking the streets of Manhattan makes me smile, it fills me with the thoughts of what’s possible about life itself, and as we know, it’s the city where dreams are made of.
I could easily see myself settling in New York for a while. I have a lot of Australian friends who have moved from Sydney to NYC. And they are VERY happy! I’m hoping to spend some months in Manhattan in 2013, all going well.
Some of the characters from Manhattan Dreaming also appear in Paris Dreaming. Is there any chance there will be another book set in a different city where fans can see what the girls are up to now? In other words, is there a Canberra Dreaming in the future?
That’s a great question, and one that I have been asked many times. Of course there are many, many options for taking my characters abroad again: Venice, Barcelona, Jamaica. Happy for readers of this post to suggest other settings!
At the moment I am working on a new novel set in Brisbane (the capital city of the State of Queensland). The story revolves around five female friends in their forties, but it’s not a Dreaming book. It’s a new story, new characters, new complex lives to discover.
Tell us about your new book Am I Black Enough for You?
My latest book is a memoir on Aboriginal identity, designed to breakdown stereotypes and to engage and at times challenge readers to consider their preconceived notions of who we are in the 21st century. I’m Aboriginal. I’m just not the Aboriginal person a lot of people in Australia want or expect me to be.
The book itself poses the questions to the reader: What does it mean to be Aboriginal? Why is Australia so obsessed with notions of identity?
I am an author and passionate campaigner for Aboriginal literacy. I was born a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales, but was raised in the suburbs of Sydney and educated at the local Catholic school. I am Aboriginal – however, this does not mean I like to go barefoot or camp in the desert, which is often how we are portrayed, especially by mainstream media.
After years of stereotyping Aboriginal Australians as either settlement dwellers or rioters in Redfern, the Australian media in recent years have discovered a new crime to charge us with: being too ‘fair-skinned’ to be an Australian Aboriginal. Such accusations led to my involvement in one of the most important and sensational Australian legal decisions of the 21st-century when I joined others in charging a newspaper columnist with breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. He was found guilty, and the repercussions continue.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Start writing (no one can read something that’s in your head), read widely (across genres, cultures, genders, geography), join your local writing organisation and / or a writing group (set your own up if need be). And here’s a link to a blog I’ve written for more idea… So you want to be a writer! http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com.au/2010/01/so-you-want-to-be-writer.html
What is your writing process? Do you write everyday and at set times or does it fluctuate?
I write something every day, whether it be a blog post, working on an essay, article or review, or some other project. I only take on work now that will somehow further my writing career or allow me to expose audiences to Aboriginal literature generally. In one week I can give a keynote address at an education conference, deliver a writing workshop in a school, speak at a local library and do media.
I always have a note book in my bag. I’m always taking notice and documenting people, places, conversations. Every day is research. Every exchange something I can massage into a story somewhere, and some later date.
Anita’s books are available from Book Depository who deliver anywhere in the world for FREE: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/search/advanced?searchAuthor=Anita+Heiss
To read more about Anita, head to her website: www.anitaheiss.com
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