black&write! had the pleasure of attending AustLit’s inaugural Teaching with BlackWords Symposium co-hosted by the School of Communication and Arts (University of Queensland) and Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning (University of Technology Sydney). The sold-out event featured a stellar line-up of educators and writers who generously shared their insights and strategies on teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories in the classroom.
Kicking off the day with distinct fabulous flair was Dr Anita Heiss who covered much ground on introducing participants to the diverse range of literature available through Austlit’s BlackWords database. With more than 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and 23,000 works recorded, the sheer magnitude of BlackWords is overwhelming. It was inspiring to sit alongside teachers and learn how these resources can be taught to students from early childhood right through to tertiary education.
Participants were then treated to a special talk from Brisbane-based writer and award-winning poet Samuel Wagan Watson. Samuel’s self-deprecating humour and personal anecdotes brought home the significant impact teachers make on the lives of their students. In sharing his own journey to becoming a writer, Samuel’s passion for poetry, his students, and love for sharing stories of place was contagious.
Another highlight was a Q&A between Professor Larissa Behrendt and Dr Anita Heiss. The conversation delved into various aspects of transforming true stories into works of fiction, and the historical and contemporary issues surrounding authorship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories. We had a chance to explore these themes even further with Dr Sandra Phillips’ presentation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature and educational practices. Gaining a sneak peek into how these stories are being used in university courses today, and questioning the issues surrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content versus perspectives generated much discussion among the audience.
Lastly, a teacher’s conference would not be complete without a paper handout and group activity. Lindsay Williams was up for the challenge and took us all through an interactive workshop examining representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in colonial texts. The workshop highlighted the power of language, imagery and characterisation, and left us all with practical ideas on how to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources into the classroom.
It was an absolute pleasure to have taken part in the symposium and learn from such engaging presenters. Spotting a few black&write! titles throughout the day was a welcome reminder of the important contribution opportunities such as the black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowships offer not only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, but to communities (and classrooms) across the nation.