The editors of the Australian Studies Journal are inviting contributions to a Special Issue on Black Australian author Mudrooroo (1938–2019), to be published October 2024. It will be guest-edited by Gerhard Fischer, UNSW Sydney.

Nearly 30 years after Mudrooroo’s publicly rejected claim to Indigenous ancestry, and five years after the author’s death in Brisbane (20 January 2019) following a decade of exile in India and Nepal, the proposed Special Issue will provide a first opportunity to re-appraise the complete oeuvre of one of Australia’s most prolific, innovative and internationally renowned writers.

At the height of his career, with several novels and award-winning volumes of poetry to his credit, Mudrooroo published the first comprehensive critical study of Aboriginal literature in Australia, ‘Writing from the Fringe’ (1990). The “landmark study” (Shoemaker), a “masterwork [that] sought to define Aboriginal literature and set criteria for judging its authenticity and worth” (Spickard), firmly established his credentials as a literary and cultural theorist. Acknowledged for many years as “the voice of Indigenous Australia” (Clark), he “had risen to the status of an icon” (Spickard). His work attracted growing attention among scholars of English literature and postcolonial studies in Australia as well as overseas.

Mudrooroo’s career came to an abrupt break in the wake of the controversy surrounding his allegedly ‘mis-taken’ Aboriginal identity. Shunned by his publishers and the literary establishment, he stopped writing and, in 2001, overwhelmed by the continuing hostility he encountered, withdrew into a self-imposed exile. He re-married, and his Nepalese wife, Sangya Magar, gave birth to their son Saman Nyoongar Magar in 2003. The family returned to Australia in 2011 to seek treatment for Mudrooroo’s terminal illness. Living anonymously in a Brisbane suburb, he started writing again. A collection of Alterslyrik, ‘Old Fellow Poems’, was published in 2017, followed by an autobiographical novel, ‘Balga Boy Jackson’ (2017). His last completed work, ‘Tripping with Jenny’, part of a projected multi-volume autobiography, was published posthumously in 2019.

Topics to be addressed in the Special Issue may include an evaluation of Mudrooroo’s work within the corpus of Australian and, specifically, Aboriginal literature; his contributions to literary and postcolonial theory; the international reception of his work (Asia, Europe, Canada and USA); analyses of the voluminous Nachlass (literary estate), notably the comprehensive diaries included in the collection at the National Library of Australia; interpretations of the most recent works published after the author’s return to Australia.

While the facts of Mudrooroo’s paternal ancestry have been widely discussed and accepted, the complete family genealogy is still largely unexplored. In addition, questions regarding the author’s public persona within the contested field of Aboriginal identity politics, performance and recognition are equally unresolved. Mudrooroo’s claim to Aboriginal ‘belonging’ on the basis of his life experiences and his work may be of secondary importance to a consideration of the impact of his writing, yet it does constitute the decisive caesura in his life-long odyssey. New evidence or arguments to advance the discussion on this topic are welcome.

Enquiries and expressions of interest are to be directed to Gerhard Fischer (g.fischer@unsw.edu.au).

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