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Ali Cobby Eckermann: Writer, Poet and Australia Council’s New Literary Fellow

Sep 13, 2018

Ali Cobby Eckermann is a Yankunytjatjara woman born on Kaurna land in South Australia. Her first collection of poetry, little bit long time, was written in the desert about her journey to find her family. The poems resulted from reconnections made as she was residing on community surrounded by family, language and lore.

Ali went on to write three more collections of poetry, two verse novels, and a memoir. She was awarded the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize, which she received from Yale University in 2017, alongside a slew of other awards for her writing including the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the 2013 Book of the Year award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. In 2012, Ali received a Deadly Award for outstanding contribution to Indigenous Literature.

Ali has received global support for her work as well, with editions of her works published in India and the U.S. In 2014 she was Australian Poetry Ambassador to Ireland, and has presented internationally at festivals such as the Ledbury Poetry Festival, Georgetown Literature Festival in Malaysia and the Jaipur Literary Festival in India. Ali is the first Aboriginal Australian writer to participate in the renowned International Writing Program in Iowa, USA and has recently featured at the International Jazz Poetry Festival in Pittsburgh alongside acclaimed international poets Gerard Stern, Kei Miller and TJ Dema.

Ali’s Fellowship comes at an ambitious stage in her literary practice, one where she will explore new parameters of the written word. Ali explains what it means to receive the fellowship:

“The Fellowship will nurture a new chapter for me, in both confidence and opportunity. As a writer I was yearning to explore new literary genres, and am writing my first prose fiction novel. The Fellowship will sponsor the research and travel required for the telling of the story I have chosen. It is a love story set in two deserts. I am also developing a small collection of essays. The Fellowship will enable more dedicated time to write, and a secure access to mentors of my choosing.”

Ali will primarily spend time undertaking research and cultural consultation to develop her first novel, KaliKali builds on historical stories told by the Adivasi (Indigenous peoples of mainland South-Asia) that Ali has begun researching in Australia. Ali will undertake focused cultural and historical research and connection by travelling to places such as Marree and the APY Lands in South Australia, the Pyndan Camel Tracks in Alice Springs and the Tamil Nadu and Kerala regions in India. The result of this travel will increase and deepen audiences’ understanding of the entwined histories and shared truths between Indigenous peoples of Australia and South Asia. Ali will also develop a collection of personal essays titled Walpa (Arriving Full Circle) and envisages an anthology of Aboriginal and Adivasi poems, compiled in collaboration with her research partners and peers in India.

“It is a real honour…..such recognition of my writings and the contribution to Australian literature is overwhelming. As an Aboriginal writer this success is very profound for me. I truly hope this acknowledgement will encourage the growing number of emerging First Nations and Indigenous writers to persevere in their craft, to trust the strength of our cultural stories and our words, and to aim beyond the prejudice of assimilation and the limits of mainstream education.”