This is a review of Kill Your Darlings #18 by Sonia Nair.

                                                                                    

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Kill Your Darlings, Issue 18

Editor: Brigid Mullane

176 pages

RRP: $19.95

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Writer and historian Robyn Annear’s piece in The Monthly late last year sparked heated debate in the literary world when she boldly proclaimed that Australian literary magazines were “oddball miscellanies” that served as “buffered delivery systems for the hardest to swallow of literary art forms”. Kill Your Darlings even received a special mention. While its graphic novel-like cover excited Annear, she said it was “burdened by the earnestness of young fogeydom”.

While Kill Your Darlings is indeed teeming with fresh talent, what surfaces as a striking theme from reading the latest edition is that the journal is written and edited by emerging writers who are achieving amazing things in their respective fields – all while sporting a critical engagement with their subject matter and an astute awareness of pertinent issues across arts, politics and the notion of identity.

“The earnestness of young fogeydom” certainly doesn’t come to mind while reading Ambelin Kwaymullina’s rumination on being an indigenous speculative fiction writer. For one, Kwaymullina is a mid-career writer who has published many YA novels. She uses the 11 pages accorded to her to deftly draw parallels between the well-documented dispossession and continual oppression of Australia’s first peoples and the exclusion of indigenous narratives from being considered literature at all. She quotes academic Jo-Ann Episkenew, who says indigenous peoples are often “dismissed as secondary characters who disappear partway through the narrative”, but what Kwaymullina asserts through her piece is that indigenous people have been contributing to speculative fiction for many years:

But many of the ideas that populate speculative fiction books – notions of time travel, astral projection, speaking the languages of animals or trees – are part of Indigenous cultures. One of the aspects of my own novels that is regularly interpreted as being pure fantasy, that of an ancient creation spirit who sung the world into being, is for me simply part of my reality.”

Kwaymullina’s piece on marrying her Palyku heritage with her writing is not unlike a recent piece in Overland #215 where 23-year-old writer Maddee Clark calls bullshit on erroneous representations of queerness as “imported or white behaviour”. In both pieces, literature and queerness are conflated with Anglo Saxon culture when in actual fact, evidence of both have long existed in indigenous culture. Both writers also highlight the narrow readings of indigenous culture that often exist –Kwaymullina attracts remarks that it is unusual to be both indigenous and a speculative fiction writer, while Clark often gets asked how hard it is being queer and indigenous.

Questions of identity and authenticity constitute a hotly debated topic at the moment, what with the post-racial mess of Iggy Azalea. Caroline Hamilton uses the criticism that Australian fashion label PAM recently attracted for its use of African-themed designs as springboard to explore the ethics of cultural appropriation. By incorporating the sentiments of gay, black American critic Hilton Als in his recent book White Girls, Hamilton uses a fresh lens to upend an issue that has inspired many a commentary piece in the last few months.

In Als’ analysis, complaining about stealing from another culture is too simplistic. Instead of seeing Eminem as just a white boy appropriating black music, Als sees him as someone on the fringes of class and society who is looking to articulate his feeling of difference. In Hamilton’s view, this is the problem with the PAM fiasco.

“Part of the problem of PAM’s work is that there doesn’t seem to be a strong artistic motive for the appropriation.”

The premise of operating as an outsider is delved into again in one of the highlights of the journal for me — Guardian critic Bethanie Blanchard’s interview with Gary Shteyngart. An American satirical writer born in the USSR, Shteyngart talks to Blanchard about how coming to English as a second language is like having a “second soundtrack playing in your mind”.

Harking back to Kwaymullina’s sentiments on speculative fiction, Shteyngart says science fiction was a great way for an immigrant child to make sense of the world – quoting Korean-American novelist Chang-Rae Lee who said “all immigrant literature is dystopian”.

Other than his candidly expressed views on identity and writing, the interview is refreshing because unlike every other writer out there, Shteyngart does not read and does not believe in the future of the novel. He doesn’t manage to sound like as much of a douche as Hanif Kureishi, though, simply because he is still quite clearly passionate about the rapidly changing concept of the written word. 

Notwithstanding the journal’s political and social focus, a piece that I found absolutely spellbinding was Lee Kofman’s ‘Muses on Fire’. By delving into the need for muses in the steadily proliferating medium of confessional writing, Kofman takes readers on a journey through history – evocatively sketching out larger-than-life personas Neal Cassady, June Miller and Lilya Brik who inspired many a book in their time.

Kill Your Darlings is diminutive in size yet packs a punch in the breadth of thought-provoking literature it has on offer. The pieces are always just the right length – long enough for a healthy exposition on a given topic yet not heavy enough to be in the league of dense, material-rich journals such as the Griffith REVIEW that require more than a tram ride to digest. KYD exists in a clear continuum of its own and features a strong mix of writers – names you may have heard of before, while also introducing you to ones that you’ll want to read more.

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Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based business journalist and freelance arts writer. She tweets at @son_nair.

 

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