Trauma, healing and survival were big themes in several sessions. Fashion guru Alannah Hill first created her distinctive make-up, hair and clothes as a suit of armour against her awful childhood: “I came out of the bathroom and said, ‘I’m never taking this off’. My secret wish was ‘I’ll show you how to be incredible’.”
Her session was by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as she slipped in and out of impersonations of her mother. When Hill was the toast of New York, she phoned her mother to tell her that her creations were in store on Fifth Avenue. Mum’s reaction: “What a shame you didn’t make it to First Avenue.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates graduated from a deprived, dangerous childhood in Baltimore to become a journalist: “It was a revelation. You could pick up a phone and ask a question and they would answer. You can access that knowledge and then they pay you to do it.”
He had the temerity to criticise Barack Obama and was invited to the White House. The other journalists, all white, were bemused to see the then president and Coates get into a back and forth exchange. He parodied their reaction: “Excuse my language … but are these two n—–s fighting?”
Judy Atkinson, author of Trauma Trails, said the Australian nation had failed Aboriginal people: “If Abbott thinks he can go in after the parents of children in crisis and blame them, he’s going to impact more trauma on our nation and our people.”
We needed to become a healing nation: “Stories will heal. Stories are all we have.”
Aboriginal performers and writers Nayuka Gorrie and Nakkiah Lui agreed that comedy made them braver and more able to talk about things.
“Laughter is such an act of rebellion and defiance and gives you some say in how you want to be seen,” Lui said, and revealed she had auditioned for the TV show Black Comedy with “a cultural appropriation guide to stripping”.
What was literature for? To bear witness and to provide an accurate vision, said Michelle de Kretser. To lift ourselves into the embrace of the world and to shock the living daylights out of us, said Alexis Wright.
The writing is the thinking, said Sara Krasnostein. The muse is your writing muscles, said Richard Glover. It’s bleeding on the page over and over again, said Ta-Nehisi Coates.