In the past decade, literature by Indigenous Australian authors has achieved increasing commercial and critical success. In this time, the Miles Franklin Literary Award has been won by Indigenous authors Kim Scott, Melissa Luckashenko and Tara June Winch. There has also been a surge in  the number of Indigenous authors publishing  in popular fiction. This includes Ambelin Kyawmullina’s The Tribe Series, Claire Coleman’s Terra Nullius and Nicole Watson’s The Boundary, amongst others. Philosophical and historical texts, such as Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk have also achieved critical and commercial success with both receiving numerous national awards.  

The BlackWords logo was designed by Brisbane-based graphic designer Michael Gilsenan. Learn the story of how he came to create this distinctive design on the AusLit website.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, however, sale of books by Indigenous Australian authors have skyrocketed as people are increasingly turning to literature to educate themselves about race, racism and Australian history. If you are interested in learning more about literature by Indigenous Australians, looking for book recommendations, or wondering how and where to access this literature, AustLit's Blackwords is an excellent place to start.   

You may know about AustLit, the definitive database of Australian fiction. You may be less familiar with BlackWords, a separately published database within Austlit that provides access to a vast record of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and their publications. On BlackWords you will find nearly 24,000 indexed works (poetry, plays, novels, critical work, non-fiction, children’s books etc.) by just under 7000 authors and organisations.  

BlackWords is available to registered patrons of the National Library of Australia. It is accessible through the Austlit website via the NLA’s catalogue or e-resources portal.  

Discovering Literature

Divided into sections for children, young adults, fiction and non-fiction,  the reading lists featured in Necessary Conversations: Books for Working through Hard Issues are a great starting place for finding literature that promotes conversations around Australian history, society and Indigenous identity and belonging.

Full Text

As well as providing biographical and bibliographical content, Austlit also provides access to thousands of full-text works, many of which are available on Blackwords. The BlackWords Essays, written by Professor Anita Heiss, assist readers in understanding the impact of Indigenous writing on the Australian publishing landscape. You can also find extracts from the immensely popular collection of biographical stories Growing Up Indigenous in Australia. Other significant resources include comprehensive interviews with Indigenous Australian authors as documented in the collections The Blackwords Interviews Series 1 and 2, and Literature (H)as Power.

BlackWords also provides a wealth of teaching and educational materials. Information Trails groups together texts of a similiar theme and offers scholarly annotations for each collection.  Examples of collections include: Language and Country, Indigenous Identity and the Stolen Generations, amongst others. Although these collections are designed for primary and secondary school students, they are also an excellent resource for discovering new literature and expanding your knowledge of Australian history.

Book Club

BlackWords also facilitates a book club that is run through the University of Queensland.  You can formally register, or simply read along with the selected texts.  This month the book club is reading The Cherry Picker's Daughter by Kerry Reed-Gilbert. 

Browsing BlackWords

BlackWords is fully searchableby author name, heritage, birth and death dates, titles and types of works, publication dates, as well as by publisher. You can also construct more complex search queries if you are interested in, for example, locating literature that features reconciliation as a theme. BlackWords provides information on their homepage on how to construct search queries. 

Fiannuala Morgan is a reference librarian at the National Library of Australia. She has completed specialist postgraduate work in Literature and Australian Indigenous Studies and is currently completing her doctoral studies in Literature and Linguistics.