ALISON Whittaker hasn’t even finished her writing degree yet, but she has just had her first book published and it has been described as “force to be reckoned with” by Books+Publishing.
Lemons in the Chicken Wire is the Gomeroi woman’s collection of poems which she describes as a “novella in verse” and tells the stories of queer and trans Aboriginal people in rural NSW.
“I think the space that poetry leaves you means you don’t have to say everything and the reader can read into it. It’s not a conversation between the writer and the reader.”
Two years in the making, Lemons in the Chicken Wire is Whittaker’s first outing on a solo publication which gave her more flexibility than contributing to an anthology or journal but was also a daunting task to take on.
“I was doing a writing degree and poetry was my way decompressing. I was writing about the same things and stringing these things together… they came together in a cohesive way which was nice,” the 22-year-old said.
“With that flexibility (of being the lone author) comes creative control and that control comes with creative liability. There’s no one to hide behind, it’s my name on the book.
“It’s a bit scary, but a thrilling challenge. It reflects what I wanted.”
Aside from her writing and her studies, Whittaker is working as a research assistant with both the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Faculty of Law and the Centre for the Advancement of Indigenous Knowledges (CAIK). She is also in her final year of a combined Writing and Cultural Studies/Law degree at UTS.
She is delighted the voices of LGBTI Indigenous people are gaining more attention and people wanted to understand the their perspective outside of a colonial lens.
“I would stay the stories have long been there. In storytelling, in conversation and online spaces, there’s always been those voices there. But now there’s a renewed interest,” she said.
Whittaker explained the title of her book, Lemons in the Chicken Wire, reflected the experience of the Aboriginal queer experience in regional NSW.
“Chicken wire is emblematic of Aboriginal identity and invokes images about what it means to be Aboriginal in this space. The rabbit proof fence was made of chicken wires,” she said.
“This is about pushing boundaries… the idea of getting through a border that imposed on you to get to another part of your identity.”
Below is an extract from O, Eureka! from Lemons in the Chicken Wire by Alison Whittaker:
Nan sliced her finger on a crossword
and wrote with that a dissertation, then she
browning, spoke to me
her contested trinity
the messianic, and the self, and the
blades of grass that pierce the pulp
of weedy toes, that the world should meet you
and wound you as you wound it
made Descartes wrong about that split
the first time I said
a long white theory word
she yarned stiff to impress me
like, with that word
came authority, and with it, fear
that she had been misunderstood
her praxis clumsy or unheard
O, the weaker!