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Wright, Alexis 1950-

Wright, Alexis 1950-

PERSONAL:

Born November 25, 1950, in Australia; married Anatoly Sawenko (a former consultant to the Central Land Council of Alice Springs); children: three. Ethnicity: Waanyi.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Onemda VicHealth Koori Health Unit, Room 415, Level 4, 207 Bouverie St., University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Indigenous researcher, administrator, and educator. Northern Territory Aboriginal Constitutional Convention, Tennant Creek, Australia, researcher and planner, 1993; Kalkaringi Convention, 1998, researcher and planner; Central Australia Indigenous Community Initiative Injury Prevention Project for Tangentyere Council, Centre for Remote Area Health and Flinders University, senior research manager, 2001-2002; LIME (Leaders in Medical Education) Network, Committee of Deans of Australian Medical Schools, coordinator.

MEMBER:

Australian Bush Heritage Fund.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, Queensland Premier's Literary Award, Best Fiction Book, Australian Book Industry Award, Australian Literary Fiction Book of the Year, and Miles Franklin Award, all 2007, all for Carpentaria.

WRITINGS:

Grog War (nonfiction) Magabala Books (Broome, Western Australia, Australia), 1997.

Plains of Promise (novel), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1997.

(Editor) Take Power Like This Old Man Here: An Anthology of Writings Celebrating Twenty Years of Land Rights in Central Australia, 1977-1997, Jukurrpa Books (Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia), 1998.

Carpentaria (novel), Giramondo (Artarmon, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Alexis Wright, an indigenous rights activist and administrator, has won acclaim for her short stories and novels exploring the lives of Australia's native people. A member of the Waanyi people of northern Australia, Wright grew up listening to her grandmother's stories about this landscape and its people. "I used to run away from my mother with my grandmother," Wright told Sydney Morning Herald writer Jane O'Sullivan. "We'd walk around the bush and the river and go fishing and she'd tell me stories." Wright was fascinated by her grandmother's descriptions of a region that the future writer did not see for herself until she became an adult—the vast plains surrounding the Carpentaria Gulf, the Waanyi people's ancestral homeland. "This country and its seasons of heat, rain and mud could pull at my conscience," she observes in an essay quoted by O'Sullivan. "It could make me travel long distances just to be there. I always feel it calling."

Her work with indigenous rights groups exposed Wright to a treasure trove of oral tradition. She spent most of her career in rural Australia, she told O'Sullivan, "listening to people telling stories about the land and culture and history and colonial experience and what I wanted to do … was to write a book in that story telling way." This ambition resulted in the novel Plains of Promise, which won Australia's most prestigious literary honor, the Miles Franklin Award, as well as numerous other honors.

Plains of Promise focuses on several Aboriginal women who are forced to leave their homeland and live at a Christian mission. Lisa Bellear, writing in the Journal of Australian Studies, described the novel as a "powerful, devastating and sensitive story." In an interview with Jean-Francois Vernay in Antipodes, Wright commented that "Plains of Promise is a novel that almost wrote itself. It is about ostracization, the idea of being an outcast in a non-indigenous world but also an outcast in the community. The novel is a fictionalization of a person who has fallen outside her life and tries to find an explanation for it and the explanation found itself in the writing of the book."

Wright's second novel, Carpentaria, is a long, sprawling book about the fictional coastal town of Desperance and the conflict there between aboriginal and white residents. Among the central characters are Normal Phantom, a fisherman and embalmer; his wife, Angel Day, queen of the rubbish dump; Normal's prodigal son, Will; itinerant evangelist Mozzie Fishman; and Machiavellian town mayor, Stan Bruiser. These characters, O'Sullivan wrote in a Melbourne Age review, "are human and fallible, but at the same time they are huge mythical figures battling not only each other and the white denizens of Desperance, but also spirits and devils of the sea and the land." The plot, O'Sullivan observed, moves "in and out of reality" and Wright's language "is colloquial and lyrical, livened by a grotesque humour." The narrative, which centers on a deadly fight between residents and mine owners for land rights, is based partly on Wright's experiences in the 1990s working on a title negotiation between native peoples and the Century mine in the Carpentaria Gulf region. This experience, she explained to O'Sullivan in Melbourne Age, revealed how arguments about land could exacerbate conflict within the indigenous community.

Wright chose to tell her story through the voice of an indigenous elder—a decision she acknowledged might alienate readers, but that critics hailed as one of Carpentaria's greatest strengths. Alison Ravescroft, writing in Melbourne Age, praised the subtlety and complexity of the voice, observing: "Of all this novel's wonderful inventions, the narrator may be the most remarkable." In a review for the Sydney Morning Herald, Susan Wyndham quoted Miles Franklin Award judge Morag Fraser's comment that Wright's choice of narrator is "very original and very brave—a bit like creating Huckleberry Finn's voice."

Carpentaria so impressed critics and readers that it won almost every Australian literary prize, including the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, the Victorian Premier's and Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, the Vance Palmer Prize, the Australian Book Industry Award, and Australian Literary Fiction Book of the Year, in addition to the Miles Franklin Award. As a Brisbane Times piece reported, judges considered Carpentaria nothing less than "a stunning evocation of a sublime and often overwhelming tropical world that is still inhabited by traditional spirits."

Wright has also written Grog War, a nonfiction account of alcohol restrictions in Tennant Creek, and edited the collection Take Power Like This Old Man Here: An Anthology of Writings Celebrating Twenty Years of Land Rights in Central Australia, 1977-1997.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Alternative Law Journal, April, 1997, Elizabeth Tregenza, review of Grog War, p. 77.

Antipodes, December, 2004, Jean-Francois Vernay, "An Interview with Alexis Wright," p. 119; June, 2007, Francis Devlin-Glass, review of Carpentaria, p. 82.

Brisbane Times, June 21, 2007, "Alexis Wright Wins Miles Franklin Award."

Bulletin with Newsweek, October 10, 2006, Sally Blakeney, review of Carpentaria, p. 70.

Economist, March 3, 2007, "A Great Divide; New Fiction from Australia," p. 89.

Journal of Australian Studies, March, 1998, Lisa Bellear, review of Plains of Promise, p. 194.

Melbourne Age, September 8, 2006, Jane O'Sullivan, "From Here to Carpentaria," review of Carpentaria; August 19, 2006, Alison Ravescroft, review of Carpentaria.

Overland, summer, 1998, Dawn May, review of Take Power Like This Old Man Here: An Anthology of Writings Celebrating Twenty Years of Land Rights in Central Australia, 1977-1997; winter, 2007, Ian Syson, "Uncertain Magic."

Sydney Morning Herald, September 9, 2006, Jane O'Sullivan, "The Call of the Claypans"; September 18, 2006, Liam Davison, review of Carpentaria; June 22, 2007, Susan Wyndman, "Gulf Country's Voice Shines in Australian Epic."

World Literature Today, summer, 1998, Carolyn Bliss, review of Plains of Promise.

ONLINE

Australasian Legal Information Institute Web site,http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/ILB/1999/84.html (December 5, 2007), Garth Nettheim, review of Take Power, like this Old Man Here.

Australia Council for the Arts Web site,http://www.ozco.gov.au/ (December 5, 2007), "Alexis Wright."

Bulletin,http://bulletin.ninemsn.com/au/ (December 5, 2007), Sally Blakeney, review of Carpentaria.

Byron Bay Writers Festival Web site,http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.co.au/ (December 5, 2007), "Festival Writer: Alexis Wright."

Melbourne Age,http://www.theage.com/au/news/books/ (December 5, 2007), Jane O'Sullivan, review of Carpentaria

West Australian (Perth, Western Australia), June 21, 2007, "Alexis Wright Wins Miles Franklin Award for Carpenteria."

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