I read the headline in the Guardian at the beginning of March and the story in all its implications, resonated with me all month. Its a good news story which touched me deeply for a number of reasons. Firstly, the poet was given recogni6ion without specifically seeking it-its like a gift from the universe in recognition of her hard work. Secondly there’s the prizemoney which she intends to use to help heal her family. And then there’s the overarching theme that art matters and is a powerful healer
Unemployed Indigenous poet Ali Cobby Eckermann wins $215,000 literary prize
Now unemployed and living in a caravan in Adelaide, the Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann says she “pretty much just cried a lot” when she received an email on Thursday notifying her that she had won a literary prize of US$165,000 (A$215,000).
“It’s going to change my life completely,” she told Guardian Australia after being awarded a Windham-Campbell prize. “I’m pretty emotional.”
For Eckermann, a Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha woman, the money gives her the welcome chance to reunite with her family.The Windham-Campbell prizes are unique in that authors generally have no idea that they are in the running for one. Administered through Yale University in the US, they do not have an open submission process but take nominations from appointed members of the literary community.
“My son and my grandsons are moving back to South Australia in the next few months, and it will just allow us some stability to grow up together under the one roof,” she said.
“I haven’t really had that option before in my life. Just the thought of maybe being able to purchase a home or rent a home, and for us to be together and have that stability is something pretty new to me.
“I’ve been so grateful for the recognition of my work so far, and could never have foreseen something of this magnitude.”
Eckermann’s literary career took off in 2009 after she submitted what became her first collection of poetry, Little Bit Long Time, to a manuscript competition run by Australian Poetry. At the time she was working in a remote arts centre, two hours outside of Alice Springs.
Eckermann has since published three collections of poetry. She is also the author of a verse novel, Ruby Moonlight, and a “poetic memoir”,Too Afraid to Cry, which examined the traumatic effects of being separated from her mother for more than 30 years.
The poet is a member of the stolen generations – forcibly taken from her mother when she was a baby. Her mother was also forcibly removed from her parents as a child, resulting in three generations of forced estrangement and grief.
“It also feels like an award that is honouring my family’s story, and the three generations of us that didn’t grow up together,” said Eckermann.
“I want to accept this award on behalf of my grandmother who walked out of the Maralinga bombs [the British nuclear testing that occurred near Maralinga, South Australia, in the 50s and 60s to the great detriment of local Indigenous people] with her little children, and then my mother was taken from her – to my grandmother and my mother, who were so dignified in their pain. Life changed so dramatically for them, and they stayed really dignified and that’s the legacy they’ve given me.”