This is an interview with Jane Harrison, the Director of the Blak & Bright Festival.

Blak and Bright is the debut Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival—a celebration and showcase of Indigenous literature running from 18 – 21 February 2016. The lineup explores Indigenous storytelling, song, feminism, superstar talent both established and emerging, and initiatives that combine millennia-old stories with modern storyteling technology.  

We spoke to author, playwright and Festival Director Jane Harrison about Blak and Bright, Blak writing, and this unique celebration of Indigenous literature. 

This will be the first specialised Indigenous literary festival in Victoria. First of all, congratulations on making it happen! Where did the inspiration for this festival come from?

The idea sprang from the resident organisations at The Wheeler Centre, who decided to employ a Victorian Indigenous Literature Officer (me!) to pull together Victoria’s first Indigenous-specific Literary Festival. It was a project that all seven organisations - Australian Poetry, the City of Literature Office, the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Express Media, the Melbourne Writers Festival, the Small Press Network, the Wheeler Centre and Writers Victoria – together with the First Nations Australia Writers’ Network – wanted to contribute to and work together on. Collaboration is part of the Aboriginal way of doing things and collaborate we have. It was also important to work with many of the key Aboriginal art orgs in Victorian Corporation for Aboriginal Languages and Ilbijerri.  I think that approach shows in the diversity of the programme.

Why has it taken so long for there to be a Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival and why is it so important that it’s happening now?

When you look at the history of published Blak writers, most of them were not published until the 1960s. But in the last decade or so we have an explosion of Blak writers – in theatre, poetry, prose, non fiction, film and TV – and in the ‘new’ and/or hybrid genres – speculative fiction, YA, spoken word, graphic novels. We have a body of work, we have Blak editors, and editors and publishers with the exposure and knowledge of how to publish and promote Blak literature. It’s not just in Australia – although that is, of course, so important - the rest of the world is interested in our stories too.


I’m not asking you to play favourites, but if you were to play favourites, what’s the one event that everyone should go to?

Oh that is too hard cos it’s such a diverse programme … but personally I am keen to hear the young activists in the Yung Blak & Bold session. They’re smart, articulate and their doing things their way. And I just saw a sneak preview of Native Dignity … I think it will be very special.


On a similar note: you’ve got some superstars on the bill; Anita Heiss and Ellen Van Neerven amongst others. Who are some of the emerging writers on the bill you are most excited about?

Yes, we have programmed some big Blak names in the literary world – as well as Anita and Ellen there’s the award winning Sam Wagan Watson, Kate Howarth, Bruce Pascoe and Tony Briggs. But I am really excited by the writers in our Fresh Blak Writers session - Maurial, Hannah and Elijah. They’re only just starting out but they have big, bold ideas and great skills – you’ll be able to say you heard them here first.


What has been the most surprising or interesting aspect of planning the festival?

Ideas are one thing but bringing a Festival to life takes teamwork and a lot of energy. I guess I have been really blown away with the enthusiasm our co-presenters, partners and community have shown for the event. I think there is a real spirit that it’s about time we showcased our deadly Blak talent.


You are of Muruwari heritage, and are an acclaimed playwright and author in your own right. What advice to you have for aspiring  Indigenous writers?

Trust your unique voice. And write, and keep writing. (I should follow my own advice. I will post-Festival. I promise).


What do you hope the legacy of the inaugural Blak & Bright festival will be?

I hoping that our audiences at the Festival have a deeper engagement, appreciation and passion for the range of creativity that is Indigenous literature in 2016. These are our shared stories - narratives that engage with our shared past, present and future. They need to be embraced and enjoyed by all of us.


Blak & Bright will be held this week, 18 – 21 February 2016. We heartily endorse this festival and suggest you check it out if you get the chance. Most events are free, and those that aren't are worth the dollar, we promise. Check them out here. 

Blak & Bright acknowledges the Kulin Nations, on whose traditional lands this Festival takes place.

This is a Writers Bloc Interview, part of a series of discussions with some of the most exciting writers from Australia and the world. To read more like this, click here. 

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