Reading Closely: Writing (and) Family History in Kim Scott’s Benang

Nadine Attewell


Recently, scholars dissatisfied with accounts that assume the novelty of indigenous literary production have drawn attention to the depth and breadth of indigenous writing traditions. This essay reflects on the stakes and implications of such genealogical projects through a reading of Aboriginal writer Kim Scott’s novel Benang, about the effects of Australian state-sponsored intervention into Aboriginal intimate and family life. Noting the extent to which Scott’s narrative foregrounds Aboriginal engagements with the written word, I suggest that Benang frames writing as at once a medium through which to reconnect with family, and itself a fraught family legacy. If indigenous authorship has been taken to constitute a form of self-determination, and reading this writing an exercise in “intellectual sovereignty,” Benang invites us, I argue, to specify the political charge of reading as inhering (at least partly) in the uncomfortable intimacies the act entails and provokes.


indigenous histories of reading and writing; the archive; family and reproductive life; sovereignty

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