Guest speaker Dr Susan Carland gave an inspiring keynote speech at the 2017 Stella Prize Award Night in Melbourne on the evening of 18 April. Read it in full below.
She writes, and she’s righteous.
She’s righteous because through her writing, not only does she hold up a mirror to reflect us back to us, she points us to look through a microscope and see all the minute pieces of ourselves and the people we know magnified, clarified. The parts of ourselves we had brushed over or rejected, through her writing, she enlarges them for our proper contemplation. They are beautiful and terrifying and ugly and significant. She writes and, suddenly, these pieces matter.
And she is righteous because, as well as offering a mirror and microscope to us – to people like us and people not like us and I’m not sure which is the more important audience – she is righteous because, she shows us a better version of ourselves. She shows us someone to aspire to be, in one way or another. The loving sisters in An Isolated Incident, the compelling therapist in Between a Wolf and a Dog, the brave mother in The Hate Race, the endlessly understanding daughter in Poum and Alexandre, the fearless chronicler of Dying: A Memoir, the perceptive Jane in The Museum of Modern Love.
Through her righteous writing, she uplifts. She is psychologist and priestess at once, both diagnosing and calling us to the higher versions of ourselves.
The versions that we can’t always see or find in a society that ignores us, dismisses us, humiliates us, destroys us.
She writes, and she riots.
She riots on the page against that society that in so many ways, seems to hate us.
She riots – not with placards and marches and crowds, but with ink and paper. And that quiet riot sweeps us all along with her, takes so many more of us with her than if she’d taken to the streets. She riots with the written word. The traffic doesn’t stop for these riots, but we do. Individual people, men and particularly women, boys and particularly girls, around the country, pause and read her words and we know that something is very wrong.
She riots by pointing out the outrageous way women are viewed – by men, media, on the street, at work, in the home. She writes and she riots and we burn.
She writes and she rights wrongs. By her writing, she rights the wrongs of the missing female voice.
And perhaps the worst part of the missing female voice is that it is not really missing at all. Women have been speaking and writing for a long time. And yet too many book prize lists and school set-texts lists miss our voices. How are we there, and yet not there?
Only 34% of the winners of the Booker Prize are women. And never has a woman of colour won.
She rights the wrong by refusing to acquiesce to that wilful ignoring. That ignoring that says women’s voices aren’t representative, aren’t as creative, are too niche, too mumsy, too female.
She writes and declares ‘you cannot ignore me’. Her book is a flare.
She writes and we all benefit. And yet all too often, we do not celebrate her – the Australian female author.
So tonight let’s honour everything she – the Australian female author – is and does. She’s righteous, she riots, she rights wrongs.
Most of all – she writes.
And we rejoice.
Dr Susan Carland is a lecturer and researcher at Monash University’s National Centre for Australian Studies. She has been listed as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, and as a ‘Muslim Leader of Tomorrow‘ by the UN Alliance of Civilizations. She was a co-creator and presenter of the ground-breaking television show, Salam Cafe, and is an ambassador for Possible Dreams International. Her first book, Fighting Hislam, will be published in May.