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:
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
Featured image courtesy of Giramond Publishing.