All About Women of Colour Mentorship Winner Yeena Kirkbright on culture, family and poetry
March 8th 2022
Photo courtesy of Sydney Opera House
All About Women have partnered with Western Sydney-based literacy movement Sweatshop on an emerging writers mentorship program for women and non-binary First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse writers.
The recipients of the mentorships have been announced as Wiradjuri poet Yeena Kirkbright and Māori Grenadian interdisciplinary artist Ayeesha Ash. These two talented writers will be mentored by Sweatshop general manager Winnie Dunn as well as Palestinian Egyptian Muslim author and sociologist Randa Abdel-Fattah. They are currently working on special projects inspired by the All About Women festival themes of: allyship, friendship, and our collective responsibility to our loved ones, our neighbours, our communities.
Bri Kennedy caught up with Yeena Kirkbright to talk about her project and the mentorship.
“It was a huge honour to be selected by Winnie and Randa who were the judges from Sweatshop. I’m sure there was lots of really amazing writers out there that applied, so it was a great surprise to be selected.”
These finished projects will be published on the Sydney Opera House website. On top of this, for the first time, the two successful recipients will be invited to read their work live on-stage at All About Women festival on Sunday 13 March 2022. Bri spoke to Yeena about making the transition from writing for yourself to writing for others and publishing.
“I’ve written poetry most of my life, It’s the way I like to write the most. But I only started sending my stuff out to be published two years ago. So I’m still an emerging writer and felt like the opportunity to have Winnie and Randa read over my work and give me feedback, both women of diverse backgrounds… really appealed to me”
“When you write in a silo you never know if your work is any good. I read a collection called Fire Front about two years ago and it’s just first nations poetry. Reading that made me feel like my voice had a place and that there is already this amazing first nations poetry in this country. Why not put my name into it as well?”
As a part of the mentorship, Yeena is working on a series of poems celebrating the women in her family. In particular, she will reflect on the experiences of her Grandmother, who was from an inspiring and resilient generation of Aboriginal women.
“The piece that I’ve worked on is a collection of about four poems. It’s about my Grandmother and loosely the women in my family and their experiences. Listening to my Dad’s stories I’ve written quite a few poems about my Grandmother and I felt it was a nice piece that fitted in with the wider festival theme.”
“Obviously the festival is All About Women. So I felt like writing about my Granny and some of my sisters. I come from a big family, there’s six sisters. I felt like writing about them and their stories was fitting for this.”
Yeena emphasised that the driving force behind her poetry was her culture and her family.
“I write a lot about Country and a lot of these poems I wrote when I was out in more regional places over the last year. That’s a huge source of inspiration. Just sitting down and talking to Dad about Granny was also a big part of wanting to write these stories. She had a really interesting life.”
“In our culture it’s so important to record these stories. Being from an oral history, they haven’t been written down before. So they’re important stories to hear especially as Australia goes through this process of decolonisation, to understand these stories of Mob.”
Want to hear from Yeena Kirkbright and Ayeesha Ash? Details below.
WHO: Winnie Dunn, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Yeena Kirkbright, Ayeesha Ash
WHAT: in colour: A Dialogue with Rising Artists
WHERE: Yallamundi Rooms, the Sydney Opera House
WHEN: 1pm, Sunday 13 March
HOW MUCH: $33, $8.50 booking fee applies per transaction
More info here.