What is our real story, and who decides?
After starting to read my umpteenth Australian memoir (Beauty by Bri Lee) I got to wondering what our real story is, and also wondering who are the keepers of that story, of that very important story, that story that not only tells of what happened, but also writes the path of the future. With this in mind, which stories are the ones that matter? Are they they stories told by Bri Lee in Beauty, Matthew Evans in On Eating Meat, Anthony Sharwood in From Snow to Ash? Are they stories told by Tim Winton in Boy Behind the Curtain, by Susan Duncan in Salvation Creek, by Kirsty Everett in Honey Blood? Are these stories the most important, are these the ones that matter the most? Who can tell, I certainly don’t know, but I do wonder…
If you care to delve into the Australian story we’re being told in books like these, you will see that these stories have been chosen, not only for their message, but because there is something particular about the writer that matters to the publisher, and this has nothing to do with the importance of the story. The writer is “connected” in some way to something or someone deemed largely important by Australian society, and definintley by the publishing industry: The Olympics, journalism, glossy magazines, literary fiction. But what is this telling us about the rest of the stories, the ones we don’t get to hear?
This is telling us that our stories aren’t important and don’t matter unless we are “somebody”. I wonder how many memoirs are rejected by publishers not because the writer is bad at the craft of writing or because the story is boring, but because they are simply an everyday person. This is telling us that only people who are important have important stories to tell and everyday people should be quiet and make way for those already in the spotlight. This is saying that suicide, cancer, loss, rape, abuse, disability, addiction, death, destruction, resurrection and success are only meaningful when that path is navigated by a journalist, an Olympic hopeful, someone “important”.
All of our lives matter. All of our stories matter and all of this makes up the collective Australian story and all of this, not just a privileged selection, should write on the wall of our futures. So, I urge you to consider the stories that aren’t being told the next time you pick up an Australian memoir. If your nextdoor neighbour had a great life story to tell, would it be their book you’d be holding in your hand at the library or bookstore? Not likely.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It shouldn’t be this way.
But, I don’t know what to do about it. Do you? (aside from self publishing, which is an expensive and often unworkable and non-viable option).
Bri Lee has an upcoming book called Who Gets to Be Smart. I wonder if there is any transferable wisdom for consideration when we ask, who gets to be published?