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Unemployed Poet Wins Prestigious Literary Award

In today’s heartwarming news of the day, Ali Cobby Eckermann, an unemployed Australian Aborginal poet, won the $165,000 Windham-Campbell Price, one of the world’s richest literary prizes, seemingly out of the blue.

NPR reported that when Eckermann received the email notifying her of her win, she was shocked, and “pretty much just cried.”

“I’m fascinated they even knew about me,” Eckermann told The Sydney Morning Herald.

And it’s about time she’s been recognized for her work. Eckermann has published several powerful poetry collections as well as a novel in verse and a memoir. As described by NPR, Eckermann derived inspiration for her writing from her own ancestry and upbringing:

“A woman of Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha heritage, Eckermann knows that trauma and loss personally as a member of the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal children who for decades were forcibly taken from their mothers by Australian governments and missionaries in order to assimilate them. As she wrote in her 2013 memoir Too Afraid to Cry, Eckermann was taken from her mother as a baby, just as her mother was taken from her own family.

Eckermann did not find her biological mother until she was in her 30s. “I remember the profoundness of finally finding someone that looked like me, you know,” Eckermann told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year, “because that’s what family is: a reflection of each other.”

Her situation was not rare: As many as a third of indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families from about 1910 to 1970, the Australian government says.”

The Windham-Campbell, named in honor of David Windham and Sandy Campbell, two lifelong book lovers and a writer and actor, respectively, honors recipients with a citation, award, and an unrestricted $165,000 grant each to support their respective writings.

This year, there are eight winners, totaling out to $1.32 million in cash prizes. Eckermann hopes to use the money to build a place that can anchor her family to one area.

“I was 34 when I finally found my mother. Four years later my son was returned to me (he was 18). My family taught us culture and I healed through poetry. An award of this magnitude will continue the healing for many of us.”

 

– ALI COBBY ECKERMANN

One of her poems, courtesy of Poem Hunter:

40-Year Leases

 

high on compensation

they tell me right from wrong

say the old days are over

you gotta sign the paper

 

coming on the charter plane

all friendly sitting round

say we gonna fix this place

you gotta sign the paper

 

I sign the paper

charter planes fly away

no more sit down circle

I wait for the fixing

 

my wife says

what you waiting for

come fishing with us

just like the old days

 

Ali Eckermann

Featured image courtesy of Giramond Publishing.