Showcasing Indigenous Australian Literature at the Library of Congress National Book Festival

On Saturday, August 31, I had the chance to do the unthinkable… rub shoulders with the likes of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; authors David McCullough, Barbara Kingsolver, and Joyce Carol Oates; and leading academic Henry Louis Gates Jr. Where did all this happen, you might ask? At the 2019 Library of Congress Book Festival in Washington, D.C., the nation’s largest annual book festival, which boasts over 200,000 attendees.

National Book Festival Poster

If being among some of the greatest minds of our time wasn’t enough, I moderated a highly anticipated panel on Indigenous Australian literature at the festival. As an Australian who loves Indigenous Australian literature, it has long been a dream of mine to organize and moderate a festival panel of some of Australia’s most brilliant contemporary Aboriginal authors. Being invited to participate in the book festival, however, is no easy feat. Every year thousands of authors hope to secure one of the roughly one hundred spots available. With a lot of hard work, the support of the Australian embassy, and the stars arguably aligning, my panel, “The View from Country—Australia’s Aboriginal Writers” was accepted.

The panel featured Jeanine Leane (award-winning poet and novelist who contributed to my first Boydell & Brewer publication, A Companion to Australian Aboriginal Literature), Kim Scott (award-winning novelist and subject of my second Boydell & Brewer companion, A Companion to the Works of Kim Scott),and Brenton McKenna (Australia’s first Indigenous graphic novelist). We were the first panel on the International Stage, and I am happy to report that the authors wowed the almost capacity crowd. We talked about their Australian and international success; their latest work, Kim’s award-winning novel Taboo (U.S. book launch by Small Beer Press at the festival), Jeanine’s poetry collection Walk Back Over, and Brenton’s groundbreaking graphic novel series, Ubby’s Underdogs (U.S. book launch for the third and final book in the series at the festival); and the importance of sharing Indigenous Australian literature with the world.   Following the panel, I was able to talk informally with book fans as they waited to have their books signed by Jeanine, Kim, and Brenton. At the end of the day I visited the book festival’s store, which had been selling copies of all of our books, and I was delighted to see they had sold out.

Belinda Wheeler, Kim Scott, Brenton McKenna, and Jeanine Leane, with the Library of Congress banner in the back

Sometimes when you write – particularly academic books – you can’t help but wonder whether the world is listening. Do people care about your work? Do readers share your passion for literature? Do books still matter? On Saturday, August 31, it didn’t take long to answer those questions. As the authors and I were arriving at the convention center, home of the book festival, we saw endless lines of people (spanning multiple city blocks) waiting patiently for the doors to open so they could stampede into the center and head towards the countless panels, book signings, and events. Being a part of this year’s festival was amazing, and I was honored to be able to showcase leading Indigenous Australian authors to the hundreds of people who turned out to our panel, came to the book signings, and purchased our books.

Belinda Wheeler, Kim Scott, Jeanine Leane, Brenton McKenna, and Markus Zusak

This guest post is written by Belinda Wheeler who is Associate Professor of English at Claflin University, Orangeburg, SC.

A Companion to Australian Aboriginal Literature
Edited by Belinda Wheeler
Paperback / 9781571139382 / £13 or $22.72

A Companion to the Works of Kim Scott
Edited by Belinda Wheeler
Hardback / 9781571139498 / £48.75 or $58.50