Scott, Kim 1957-
SCOTT, Kim 1957-
PERSONAL: Born 1957, in Perth, Western Australia, Australia; married; children: two sons. Education: Attended Murdoch University.
ADDRESSES: Home—Coolbellup, Western Australia. Agent—c/o Fremantle Art Centre Press, P.O. Box 158, North Fremantle, Western Australia, 6159 Australia.
CAREER: Teacher, novelist, and poet.
AWARDS, HONORS: Miles Franklin Prize (co-recipient), and Western Australian Premier's Award, both 2000, both for Benang: From the Heart.
True Country, Fremantle Arts Centre Press (Fremantle, Australia), 1994.
Benang: From the Heart, Fremantle Arts Centre Press (Fremantle, Australia), 1999.
The Dredgersaurus, Sandcastle Books (Fremantle, Australia), 2001.
Contributor of poetry to anthologies and literary journals.
SIDELIGHTS: A descendant of the southwestern Australian Nyoongar people, award-winning teacher and novelist Kim Scott deals with Aboriginal identity and biculturalism in his novels. True Country and Benang: From the Heart have established Scott as a writer unafraid to investigate the effects of colonial violence. "I grew up thinking of myself as of Aboriginal descent with pride, but that's still an impoverished and diminished way to exist," Scott told Jane Sullivan of World Press Review. "I've spent my adult life trying to work out my historical being."
To write about Aboriginal identity, Scott researched his own family. His father was the only child of a Nyoongar woman; his mother was a non-Aboriginal. His father, whose mother died young, was moved around the country often and as an adult worked repairing roads. "My father had disconnected. He said he had been moved around all over the place, but he was quiet about himself," Scott told Sullivan. "He was lost to himself. He died before he was 40." Yet he had wished for his son to be educated, and because Scott found solace in reading and writing, he excelled at literature, earning a college degree. At that time, universities were not teaching anything about Aboriginal writing or history, so Scott turned to colonial writers, such as Mexican Octavio Paz. Paz's metaphorladen literature sparked Scott's interest in writing with a fantastical element.
For a time, Scott taught English in Western Australian, where he encountered the poverty—both economic and cultural—of the Aboriginal people in a very real way. This experience encouraged him to explore his own heritage and existence as the outcome of longstanding policies of assimilation of Aboriginals into white culture. His first novel, True Country, tells the story of Billy, a part-Aboriginal teacher who returns to the Aboriginal community in Western Australia, looking for his "true country." In True Country Scott portrays the feelings of a mixed-race character raised in the white community. He also captures the cadences and sound of Aboriginal English as spoken by his Aboriginal characters, and the essence of their culture. According to a Canadian Literature reviewer, the novel "effectively handles dialogue and voice." Katharine England, writing in Australian Book Review, praised Scott for his portrayal of the conflicts between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal characters: "Scott handles these scenes [of tragedy] very deftly, with plangent economy and power, but the force of the book is in the clarity and fidelity with which day to day friction is presented." She concluded, "This vital, often lyrical and always uncompromising novel marks an impressive debut for Kim Scott and a challenging direction for Aboriginal writing."
Like True Country, the subject of Benang: From the Heart is the policy of assimilation of Aboriginals and its results, although Scott tells the story with a broader focus than in his previous novel, dealing with the diversity of Aboriginal culture. "Benang" is both a Nyoongar word meaning "tomorrow" and the name of one of Scott's ancestors. In this aptly titled novel about past and present, Scott combines fiction with historical documents and other archival research, the fruit of five years' effort, to represent different voices of Aboriginal culture while telling the immediate story of Harley. Harley is "the first white man born" in a family headed by a white patriarch who wanted to test theories of obliterating Aboriginality from his offspring, the results of his mixed-race sexual relations. While Harley can pass for white, he does not want to obliterate his Aboriginal identity and so purposefully thwarts his invalid grandfather's attempts to control him.
Many reviewers praised Benang for its style and originality. Scott uses a number of stylistic techniques, including aphorisms, short sentences, syllogisms, paradox, ambiguity, and local color. He also uses fantastical elements, such as Harley's need to be weighed down to prevent him from physically rising from the earth. According to Philip Morrissey in Meanjin, "Benang is distinguished in the first instance by its language; rather than self-conscious 'beautiful writing,' Scott uses plain English in a form determined by the complexity of the issues he deals with. The fineness of Scott's writing is the guarantor of his integrity as a storyteller." "The way in which Scott has written Benang is nothing short of brilliant," wrote Anita Heiss in Southerly. "His use of personal narrative as well as historical documents is compelling. The different family memories and stories move freely through generations, characters and different locations, giving the story variety and colour." In Sullivan's opinion, "Some of the most terrifying prose in Benang comes in direct quotes" from newspapers, reports, and welfare files.
This high level of stylistic complexity was seen by several critics as detracting from the work. "The manifest strengths of Scott's storytelling approach also exposed its weaknesses," commented John Donnelly in Australian Book Review. "In his desire to invoke more and more history … the story loses its focus." Likewise, Carly Chynoweth called "Benang a complicated, challenging and sometimes frustrating book," in her Australian Book Review article. "Scott's narrative technique creates a sense of everything happening at once. … Despite the difficulties this lack of linearity can present readers with, Benang is an interesting examination of the way past and present Aboriginality intersect." In Aboriginal History Gordon Briscoe found what he considered to be "two major weaknesses" in the work: its great length and the "over-use of archival sources without placing them in their chronological context."
Among the work's enthusiastic supporters were Victoria Laurie of Weekend Australian, who wrote, "Benang soars to the level of superb storytelling with an emotional punch to the guts, not unlike Toni Morrison's Beloved." Gerry Turcotte of the Sydney Morning Herald likened the work to the novels of Salman Rushdie and Peter Carey: "Benang is brilliant," he wrote, "It is a mature, complex, sweeping historical novel." Turcotte added that "for all the darkness, this novel isn't bleak. Scott is a master storyteller who makes his characters vibrant and enticing. The stories, even at their most depressing, are superbly told and rivetting." Donnelly noted the work's timeliness; it was published shortly after the release of a report titled "The Stolen Nations" which discusses the negative consequences of assimilation policies in Australia, sparking debate about amending the constitution to acknowledge the indigenous population's occupation of Australia. Jennifer Moran in the Canberra Times summed up the novel thus: "Haunting and poignant, Benang is a book that pierces the heart even as it seeks to lance the savage bleeding of the wounds of white settlement in Australia." Scott will likely have more to say on this important subject.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Aboriginal History, 1999, Gordon Briscoe, review of Benang: From the Heart.
Antipodes, December, 2000, Marilyn Strelau "Whose Image? Whose Mirror?," p. 163.
Australian Book Review, February-March, 1993, Katharine England, "Show Rather than Tell," pp. 35-36; June, 1999, John Donnelly, "Nyoongar Man," pp. 29-30.
Australian Review of Books, June 9, 1999, Carly Chynoweth, review of Benang.
Canadian Literature, fall, 1994, review of True Country, p. 255.
Canberra Times, March 20, 1999, Jennifer Moran, review of Benang.
Meanjin, January, 2000, Philip Morrissey, review of Benang, pp. 198-200.
Southerly, winter, 1999, Anita Heiss, "New Indigenous Fiction," p. 191; spring, 2001, Lisa Slater, "Benang: From the Heart—'I Found Myself among Paper,'" p. 220.
Syndney Morning Herald, June 19, 1999, Gerry Turcotte, review of Benang.
Times Literary Supplement, January 5, 2001, Lesley Chow, "For the Last Reader," p. 20.
Weekend Australian, April 3-4, 1999, Ramona Koval, review of Benang; August 14-15, 1999, Victoria Laurie, review of Benang.
World Press Review, November 11, 2000, Jane Sullivan, "Kim Scott: Whispered Truths," pp. 12-13.
Fremantle Arts Centre Press Web site,http://www.iinet.net/ (April 15, 2002), Susan Midalia, "Interview with Kim Scott."*