Own voice authors highlight the importance of diverse literature at Armadale Arts Festival, says Lata Periakarpan

Fremantle Press publisher Cate Sutherland will host a panel featuring Yuot Alaak, Rafeif Ismail and Scott-Patrick Mitchell as they discuss diversity in all its forms, from race and gender to sexuality and class.

If the comments we’ve garnered from Yuot Alaak and Rafeif Ismail are anything to go by, then the event, which will take place on Friday 17 May from 6 pm at Armadale Library, looks set to spark robust conversations while introducing Western Australian readers to talented new voices.

Yuot Alaak, who was shortlisted for the City of Fremantle T.A.G. Hungerford Award for his soon-to-be-published manuscript Father of the Lost Boys, is a former child refugee from South Sudan. He says, ‘Diversity is the cornerstone of any multicultural society and Australia is no exception. Knowledge is power, and a lot of knowledge can be acquired from the written word. If we don’t have diverse voices in Australian literature, then we are depriving a vast majority of Australians of knowledge of the “other” and hence the ability to have compassion and empathy.’

Rafeif Ismail, a third culture youth of the Sudanese diaspora who features in the Fremantle Press book Meet Me at the Intersection, agrees, pointing out the importance of representation. ‘When only a certain story is told, it becomes canon and then reality, at the expense of various other voices. Storytelling shapes who we are as people and groups, and so it becomes responsible for making sure all voices in our collective culture are represented.’

When asked if there was a lack of diversity in Australia, both writers gave a resounding yes. Rafeif said, ‘There is a lack of access for writers from non-privileged backgrounds, a lack of mentoring and support. It’s an absolute injustice and Australian literature is poorer for it.’

So what can we do as individuals to help champion cultural diversity in literature? According to Yuot, ‘We can certainly do our part by reading more diversely within an Australian context. There are great Australian stories that can inspire us all, but these aren’t necessarily always mainstream or biographies of sport stars and politicians.’

But Rafeif says it has to be a shared effort. ‘We must work not only as individuals but collectively to shift Australia’s literary landscape into an accessible diverse space. It means listening, examining power, privilege and access and, through that, learning and rebuilding the literary landscape to be more welcoming to voices often sidelined to the margins.’

The Importance of Diversity in Literature panel is a great place to start if you’re looking to learn more about diversity in literature.

Yuot says, ‘Discussions like this one are critical in enabling a greater understanding among Australians and I think as Australians, we have a duty to educate and also learn from each other.’

Yuot and Rafeif will be joined by fellow panelist, LGBTIQA+ poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell, whose work features in The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry and who was one of 35 writers selected for the Four Centres Emerging Writers Program.

To book your free ticket, head online to Eventbrite to register.

The Importance of Diversity in Literature, part of the Armadale Arts Festival, will be held at Armadale Library on Friday 17 May, from 6 to 7 pm. Seats are limited so get in fast. For more information, call 9394 5125 or visit the website.

Lata Periakarpan is currently interning with the marketing department at Fremantle Press, where she is working on projects that include photography, graphics, sound editing, videography, social media and of course, writing. She has a BA in Screen Arts and Creative Writing from Curtin University.

Books discussed
Meet Me at the Intersection
The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry

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