A short history of the First Nations Australia Writers Network

It is with great pleasure that I write about the First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN). Conceived out of the ‘Guwanyi’ Indigenous Writers Festival in March 2011, FNAWN is the peak representative body for First Nations Australia novelists, poets, storytellers and screenwriters. We are focused on representing and advocating for our membership in the creative industry, both nationally and internationally. We aim to ensure networking opportunities and assist our members in their skills and career development. In order to maintain a public face as FNAWN we do this through our newsletters and through an active presence online by social media and by email.

In such a short time we have achieved so much, from 2012 to right now 2018. We have established an amazing organisation that represents Us Mob in the literary world. We have put some fantastic strategies in place that have reached out not only nationally but to the other side of the world.

In acknowledging our success as an organisation, it is important to know the people who all gave freely to make FNAWN a living, breathing organisation. People such as Cathy Craigie, one of our founding members and our first executive director – without her expertise, commitment and knowledge the journey would have been so much harder. People such as Anita Heiss, Jared Thomas, myself and many others who came together at the initial 1993 writers workshop in Brisbane where the seed was sown for an organisation such as FNAWN.

The journey to where we are today began officially with the establishment of a working party in 2012, which included myself, Jared Thomas, Jimmy Everett, Alexis West, John Harding, Sam Watson Snr, Dr Peter Minter, Jackie Huggins, Dr Marcus Waters, Philip McLaren and Marie Munkara.

I have travelled the journey, as chairperson from the very beginning, then in 2016 I gladly handed over the reins to the fantastic Dr Sandra Phillips who, together with Charmaine Papertalk Green, Sharon Mununggurr, Dr Jeanine Leane, Karen Wyld and Samantha Faulkner, continued the journey, until I returned as chairperson last year.

In Brisbane in May 2013, FNAWN presented our first national workshop, where 120 First Nations writers, poets and storytellers attended a three-day workshop. These three days assisted in meeting the literary needs of FNAWN members – but also brought together First Nations and non-First Nations literary individuals, agents and publishers. In 2015, we held our second workshop in Melbourne, where we were showcased the success of our members. This workshop also provided the board with an opportunity to showcase the overall success of FNAWN nationally and internationally. Both workshops were seen as highly successful by attendees and the literary wider community in general.

In its short history, FNAWN was also instrumental in organising and coordinating the first Aboriginal USA trip, which took established writers and poets to the US Book Fair and showcased their books and work. We have also been involved in other major literary events, such as the ‘Literary Commons’ India trip. We have had the pleasure to organise and host international guests from Canada, New Zealand and the US at our national workshops and other events. There was also the literary journal Ora Nui, co-edited by Anton Blank and myself, which highlighted the work of First Peoples from Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia.

Another major achievement for FNAWN was the partnering with the Victorian Literature organisations to support a position for a Victorian Indigenous Literature Officer. We were also able to send members to and to participate in the Blak & Bright Festival.

Our board is committed to mentoring emerging writers, and actively seek opportunities for our membership, meaning we offer free membership in recognition of the economic challenges faced by many. We also are a main point of contact for those within the industry seeking to engage with First Nations Australia writers, and have forged collaborations in this way. We think of our national conference-workshops of 2013 and 2015 as two of our greatest achievements – it was wonderful to hear the ‘buzz’ that these events created. We are hoping for similar from our third workshop, which will be held in Canberra in August.

The individual membership of our organisation continues to grow. We are continually seeking new membership, though. We aim to ensure that our members receive information about opportunities that they may wish to access to enable them to further develop their skills and ensure a higher profile within the literary world. FNAWN’s guiding values and principles are reflective of the craft of its members and the First Nations cultures that form its base.

We have increased participation and professional development opportunities for our writers – for instance, we work with non-First Nations authors and literary agents as a way of supporting and mentoring them, increasing their ability to successfully work with First Nations Australia literary artists.

As a centre for literary information and knowledge, we have facilitated many more opportunities for First Nations writers than I am able to list here. FNAWN will continue to enhance our writing and to foster and promote the important work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander novelists, poets, storytellers and screenwriters.

Visit First Nations Australia Writers Network.

Kerry Reed-Gilbert

A Wiradjuri woman from Central New South Wales, Kerry Reed-Gilbert has performed and conducted writing workshops nationally and internationally. She was the inaugural Chairperson of the First Nations Australians Writers Network (FNAWN). In 2013 she co-edited a collection of works with the US Mob Writing (UMW) group ‘By Close of Business’, and was co-editor for the Ora Nui journal, a collaborative collection between First Nations Australia writers and Maori writers.

Kerry is a former member of the Aboriginal Studies Press Advisory Committee. Her poetry and prose have been published in many journals and anthologies nationally and internationally, including the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature and Southerly. She is a member of the ACT Us Mob Writing group and First Nations Australia Writers’ Network.

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  1. This is such a wonderful history. FNAWN is an amazing thing and I’m so glad you’ve told us about its journey Aunty Kerry. Thanks so much for all the hard work you do to support black writers!

  2. Congratulations, all. Very pleased to have attended both FNAWN events and looking forward to the stimulations of the next in Canberra in August. Splendid advocacy making literature stronger. Thanks!

  3. Thank you, hoping to see you there Babe it will be wonderful. You all make it worthwhile.

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