Us Mob Writing (UMW) is a group of First Nations Australia poets, writers and story tellers both emerging and established who are committed to showcasing First Nations writing. The group formed more than seven years ago and focuses primarily on poetry and short stories, with their poetry and prose published in many books and journals including self-publishing an anthology By Close of Business. The group also present at writing events and festivals and continue to be involved with the ACT’s emerging and experimental writer’s festival, Noted which is also supported by artsACT.
On sitting down with a few of the group’s members, their reputation in the community, and nationally, for their professionalism becomes apparent. The commitment to supporting each other and propelling the group forward is evident in their enthusiasm to discuss their past and future projects. The group meet monthly and have developed terms of reference to build on their professionalism.
UMW is one of the most active First Nations writers group in Australia with the group providing a safe space for members to collectively write, present and critique work. The majority of members work full time and write part time, while juggling family and community commitments. With competing responsibilities, members say meeting once a month and making time for workshops can be difficult so it is important to have a safe and appropriate environment for members to focus on their writing abilities. Funding from artsACT has supported members to attend activities that have furthered their writing and professional capacity.
Image: Kerry Reed Gilbert at First Nations Australia Writers' Network
Support and development
In 2013, Us Mob received funding for seven members to attend the inaugural First Nations Australia Writers’ Network (FNAWN) workshops in Brisbane. The Network brings together First Nations Writers from across Australia for two days of presentations, workshops and intense networking. It aims to foster a vibrant writing sector that offers greater opportunities to participate in sharing and strengthening the arts practice, and to developing careers and businesses for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writers. One of Us Mob’s founding members, Wiradjuri poet Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert, was the inaugural Chairperson of FNAWN 2013-2016, which is a testament to the ACT group’s heavy involvement in and enthusiasm to bring First Nations writers together. Kerry explains that bringing the poets and writers together is important to demonstrate there are more than a handful of writers out there. In fact, there is a wide network of established and emerging writers across the country. Another group member furthered this sentiment, stating “the gathering makes you realise you are not alone, there are other writers who can support you and from whom you can gain inspiration and skills.”
The Network meeting attracted high profile Indigenous writers such as Anita Heiss, Melissa Lucashenko, Bruce Pascoe and Kim Scott, from whom, members said, they gained new insights into the field of writing as well as other valuable learning. While the Network gave the group new tips and writing styles, it also helped build confidence for the individual poet/writer. Group members commented that high profile writers making the time to come and meet with emerging writers, and hearing about their literary journeys, gave them inspiration and hope to stick with writing.
Us Mob received funding again in 2015 to attend the Network’s event in Melbourne, this time taking twelve writers. Members said the focus of the gathering as an information sharing event was important for First Nations Australia poets, writers and story tellers as a collective and a network. The UMW group was the largest at the gathering and received comments on their professionalism and commitment, a testament to their dedication to building their capacity as individuals and as a group. Attending the Network’s events regularly is an important way of acknowledging the value of the Network and the value of writing as a profession. Members acknowledged the importance of attending events such as the FNAWN workshops as a positive learning and development tool.
Image: Jeanine Leane and Richard Weston at First Nations Australia Writers' Network
Collective future visions
Since their first funding opportunity, Us Mob has published one book, to which members have contributed; they are currently working towards their next publication. They have participated in local, national and international festivals and community events. With most members having started their writing journey in poetry, they are now focusing on developing their short story writing skills. Looking to the future, UMW members hope to attract young ones within their community with the view to mentoring them to become the next generation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander poets and writers in the literary world. As more of the current members of the group become more recognised as established writers, they see their role as mentors by providing support through confidence building and literacy to emerging poets and writers.
UMW are a current recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts, Chosen grant initiative for 2016-2017. Funds were received to develop and publish a collection of short stories and poetry. Masterclasses with Melissa Lucashenko and Yvette Henry-Holt will provide skills along with writing retreats to develop their work. The publication is due to be delivered in late 2017.
Members say the success of the group is due to the genuine support and respect for each other, and an understanding for emerging writers as “we have all been there.” It is UMW aim to create a safe place for members to write and to receive feedback. UMW considers themselves to be a successful First Nations literary group who leads by example through their professional success, community mindedness and supportive network.
For more information on Us Mob, email Kerry Reed-Gilbert firstname.lastname@example.org.