The frontiers of editing

Monday, February 29, 2016
Hannah Donnelly

Drawing of text boxes

We are the custodians of stories that are traditional cultural expressions of collective nations. Before the poisoned waterholes and dog tags these stories were told in our languages. But our English is still Blak. We appropriated your language when we were punished for speaking ours.

If we break it down to the semiotics of writing, our language and expression is part of our ways of knowing and being blak. Sometimes referred to as Aborginal English our styles of communication have lived through colonial violence against our languages. We might be writing with English but our schema is still intact. We are not bound by colonial grammar or your definitions. If you don’t share our knowledge structures you don’t have the required comprehension skills to edit our writing.

Recently Sam Cooney from The Lifted Brow shared some thoughts with me on the Publishing and Editing Blak session. We talked about how white editors can learn more about the ways they unconsciously silence Aboriginal voices:

“I believe that probably the best way for white editors to learn how they have in the past or might in the future silence Aboriginal voices is for these editors to be confronted with the reality of their ignorance. For me personally, being shocked into action, being made starkly aware of my shortcomings in any area, while at first unpleasant, has in the past lead me to speedily try to rectify these shortcomings. Black & Bright shocked me (not unpleasantly, mind you) by again reminding me of the fact that I work as an editor and publisher in a land in which I am largely illiterate about the oldest ways of speaking and telling stories. I am so stoked to have been given this reminder, and to at the same time been shown ways to improve.”

White editors working with mob (or any styles of expression that fall outside of cis, straight, able-bodied) need to seek professional development to understand the cultural reality signified by the words they work with. Otherwise editors will remain culturally illiterate.

Sandra Phillips said “editing is influencing not owning” if you have done the job proppa it is invisible. If publishers want to catalyse Indigenous writing we need to see an investment in to Blak editors who maintain our voices.

About Hannah Donnelly

Hannah Donnelly is a Wiradjuri woman from New South Wales who grew up on Gamilaroi country. Creator of Sovereign Trax Indigenous music website and co-editor of the Sovereign Apocalypse zine, Hannah’s personal work experiments with cli-fi and future imaginings of Indigenous responses to climate change.

Writers Victoria was proud to support Hannah as Blogger in Residence for the Blak & Bright Indigenous Literary Festival (link is external) in February 2016.

This commission was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.