The Aesop Queer Library: Q&A with writer Bebe Oliver
By: Archer Magazine
Archer partnered with Aesop to promote The Aesop Queer Library Australia, launching on 5 Feb 2024. To celebrate this event, we interviewed three of the writers included in this year’s queer library list.
Bebe Oliver is a descendant of the Bardi Jawi people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and an award-winning writer based in Naarm. A leader in Aboriginal advancement, he is Chairperson of Blak & Bright First Nations Literary Festival, and a Board Director of Magabala Books, Australia’s leading Indigenous publishing house. A writer, poet, illustrator, speaker, and facilitator living on unceded Kulin land, Bebe’s widely published work encompasses love, loss, identity, Aboriginal and gay existence, place, and Country. Bebe’s debut solo poetry collection is more than these bones (Magabala, 2023).
Image by: Alexis Desaulniers-Lea
Q: How does literature contribute to inclusivity and visibility for queer identity and experience?
Literature and storytelling are really powerful tools and avenues for self-expression. Whether you’re queer or a member of another minority or marginalised group, your stories are your truth.
When we’re given opportunities to not only share our stories, but to have those stories received so warmly, it’s remarkable.
I think back to when I was a kid and everybody wanted to go to Hogwarts, or jump on the Polar Express or whatever the big commercial craze was. We all had these desires to transport ourselves into those worlds that we’d read about. But the other side of that is the lived experience perspective. We’re able to see where we are, and where we have been, when we read stories by someone else who belongs to a community that we identify with ourselves.
Yes, there are challenges. But there’s always going to be succeeding, there’s always going to be redemption, there’s always going to be joy and pride that can be found in our own experiences and identities.
Q: How did you get into writing, and what has it meant to you over the years?
I always had a passion for literature and storytelling, and I’ve always been a very creative person.
I started writing as a child – you know, creative stories here and there. But I really struggled with fictional stories. I couldn’t make things up. I had a huge imagination but when it came to putting what was in my mind onto a piece of paper, there was some doubt, it just didn’t feel right.
So I started to muddle around with poetry, and a more memoir-based kind of storytelling. That ultimately took the form of journals.
My writing was originally only for me and it was very much therapeutic. There was a lot I experienced as a young Aboriginal boy that was challenging and very difficult. I didn’t have someone that I could speak to openly about these things because of my suppressed identity, so I wrote about them as my outlet.
It wasn’t until 2018 that I took a chance to share my writing with someone else. I submitted writing for a collection called Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, and when it was selected, that for me cemented this belief that there is value in what I have to say, and in the things that I’ve witnessed and experienced.
That was the beginning of it. Now, my writing is about sharing so that others can continue to learn, to engage, and to be inspired to make change.
Q: Tell us about your published work. What was the process like, getting published in Australia?
I’ve had my own book published before, but my writing features in The Aesop Queer Library as part of an anthology called Nangamay Mana Djurali – which takes its name from the Gadigal words for ‘dream’, ‘gather’ and ‘grow’.
It’s a very important book, edited by Alison Whittaker and Steven Lindsay Ross, that comprises really powerful voices from the black queer community around Australia. It’s an incredible body of literature that captures so many different perspectives and experiences from that intersection of identities – it paints this wonderful picture of what life is like for an Aboriginal queer person in contemporary Australia.
At first I thought my pieces were too dark or too intense for the theme. But my angle was, this writing is about dreaming and growing from dark places into something more positive.
One of the most interesting things is the fact that it was self-published by BLACKBOOKS. The publishing industry in Australia is very commercialised and, these days, words are attached to a dollar value.
But that’s not the value that matters. Readers don’t care about what’s marketable, or what sells – they care about where they belong, what they can relate to, and what can help and empower them in their own communities.
Q: What has it been like seeing your words out in the world? Has it impacted your relationship with your own identities and how you understand your place in the world?
I’ll confess, I walk into bookshops and deliberately look to see if they stock any of my work!
When they do, it’s this incredible feeling of, ‘Wow, I did that, and it’s here in this bookshop in this city or town that I’ve never been to before.’
It’s an incredible thing because so much hard work goes into putting a book together, editing a collection, or even if you’ve just submitted one piece to an anthology, so much of your essence, your soul, and your spirit is in that work.
The way I write is dictated by my emotional state or psychological place. My work used to be very heavy and very centric to the holding on, the yearning, the loss, the missing or wanting. But now it’s about celebrating who I am and where I belong. That has been a lot of inner child work which I wouldn’t have been able to do without writing.
I used to write a lot about the ending of my 10-year relationship. It was my first gay relationship and when it ended it, I realised I didn’t know who I was as a gay man, because my entire gay identity was as his partner.
It created this brand new exciting journey for myself which has continued as I’ve kept writing.
Someone told me many years ago that one of the most powerful things about writing and being published is, you’ll never know or understand how your words will impact the lives of people you’ve never met.
There are times when I still think, ‘Am I writing the right thing? Am I writing about what people want to read?’ Then I remember, that’s not why I write.
I write for myself, and I write to leave some form of a legacy to my black identity, and to my queer identity.
Interview by Amy Middleton, founder and publisher of Archer Magazine.
my grandmother’s two brown hands
by Bebe Oliver
you sipped your cup of coffee and puffed on your cigarette
and flicked the ash onto the tiled terrace
and you combed your hair
in the dread of the little hours of that midnight confessional
and you weaved into the air the message i’d take with me
through the streets of every city i’d visit
the trees and grasslands and beaches
of the land we knew as home
the horseshoe drive-through of my apprehension
those words –
use every part of you to carry yourself
and this is –
that was –
how my whole twenty-seven-year-old self
became no more solid than a blade of grass
in front of your brown hands
you, the woman who once wrestled me, screaming,
into the world of a showery calm
and into my mother’s waiting arms
at 7:15pm on the twenty-third of march twenty eighteen
would wrestle me, still screaming,
from your lifeless arms and into safety?
where would my safety be then
when it was always and only with you?
This article was produced in partnership with Aesop for The Aesop Queer Library Australia.
HELP KEEP ARCHER MAGAZINE AFLOAT!
- Something went wrong, no related stories were found.