The truth is, you’d be doing yourself a complete disservice if you didn’t work your way through this essential reading list, stat.
Filled with short stories, proverbs, poems, essays and novels rich with unparalleled experiences of country, kin and healing, this reading list features truly astonishing reads written by First Nations authors that you’ll want to completely immerse yourself in. Expect everything from harsh realities and reads that will deeply challenge the way you think to lyrical prose and even the slightly comedic.
Check out the best books written by First Nations authors.
Too Much Lip
By Melissa Lucashenko
We love Melissa Lucashenko with a passion and once you read Too Much Lip, you’ll easily understand why she’s become our first pick in the bookstore. This epic read is gritty meets darkly hilarious as the wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent her entire life doging her hometown and prison. Except now, her Pop is dying and she’s pretty dang close to being locked up so makes the trip down to Bundjalung Country and old family wounds re-open. There’s also the unexpected arrival of a good-looking dugai (white) bloke who can’t seem to leave her alone.
My Tidda, My Sister
By Marlee Silver, Rachael Sarra
If you haven’t read this book already—what the hell have you been reading? While we know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and society has existed for millennia, My Tidda, My Sister shares the vast experiences of many Indigenous women and girls. This read acts as a big celebration of truth-telling with some stories ticking the heart-warming box and others spilling into the harsh realities for Indigenous women in the past and present. If anything though, the stories are all interconnected through an empowering and unbreakable bond of sisterhood.
By Margo Nylle and Lynne Kelly
Having only dropped last year, we’ll forgive you (for now) if you haven’t sunk your literary teeth into the brilliance that is Songlines (which is actually part of a wider six-part series you need to get into) written by two of the best female authors of 2020. This is an absolute staple in any home library because Songlines is an archival read of knowledge stemming from Australia’s First Nations people which saw its culture flourish for over 60,000 years. While other books in this series delve into First Nation knowledge around design, land management and medicine, Songlines is a vice to provide greater understanding in how First Nations people kept knowledge alive, not through written recordings, rather through song, art and most importantly—Country.
By Tara June Winch
Say hello to, what will no doubt be, one of the best reads of your life. Written by Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch, a contemporary female author you should very well be across now, The Yield is an exceptional novel of a people and culture dispossessed. Knowing that he will soon die, Albert “Poppy” Gondiwindi takes to writing—his life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River and he’s determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. This one also just scored the Miles Franklin Award so go forth and delve into its pages.
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia
By Anita Heiss
As confronting as this one may be, Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia is an absolute must-read. Compiling the perspectives from a number of people like Tony Birch, Adam Goodes, Deborah Cheetham, Terri Janke and a whole heap more, this groundbreaking anthology reveals, to some degree, the impacts of invasion and colonisation—on language, on country, on ways of life, and on how people are treated daily in the community, the education system, the workplace and friendship groups.
By Bruce Pascoe
If you’re open to flip all that you learned in school, this is the book for you. Dark Emu has been written by Yuin and Bunurong man Bruce Pacoe whose experience clocks in as a teacher, farmer, fisherman, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archeological site worker and editor. This book represents an entire reconsideration of the 'hunter-gatherer' tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians slamming the colonial myths that stated there was no evidence of agriculture, aquaculture and engineering.
Maar Bidi: Next Generation Black Writing
By Elfie Shiosaki, Linda Martin
To challenge the way you think about Australia, you need to sink your literary teeth into Maar Bidi: Next Generation Black Writing. This book is wonderfully curated with anthologies of prose and fiction from a diverse league of talented writers who tale what it means to be a young person of colour and a minority in this world. There are young essayists, critics, novelists, poets and authors who all shake-up styles of writing and the result is a deep map into Indigenous writers who speak of country and kin.
Guwayu, For All Times
By Dr Jeanine Leane, Red Room Poetry
Another great read poised with the intricacies of language, stories and culture is Guwayu, For All Times. This book features a wide collection of First Nations poems (all commissioned by Red Room Poetry over the past 16 years) and stocks uncensored versus from 12 different languages. There’s over 60 poems to work your way through which all range from lyric, confessional, protest, narrative and song. Guwayu, For All Times has been edited by Wiradjuri poet, Dr Jeanine Leane.
The White Girl
By Tony Birch
He’s one of the absolute best writers around so it should come as no surprise that you need to get onto Tony Birch’s The White Girl (and while you’re at, check out Shadowboxing, Ghost River and Blood too). This particular book though, is about Odette Brown. She’s been living her life on the fringes of a small country town and has raised her granddaughter, Sissy, all on her own. She’s managed to keep pretty low on the local welfare authority’s radar who have been removing fair-skinned Indigenous children from communities. However, a new policeman is damn determined to enforce the law which means Odette has to do everything she can to save Sissy and protect her family.
By Kirli Saunders
You can thank us later because Bindi is the only book you need to be gifting any of the little people in your life and hey, if you want to flick through its pages, you’ll be pretty breath taken too. Telling the story of 11-year-old Bindi who’s an absolute force in art class and on the field when she’s playing hockey. While it seems like her year strays from how it should have been with big assignments, droughts, bushfires and a broken wrist, the beauty of Bindi is that it subtly intertwines the realities of climate bushfires and intergenerational healing. The book is also seamless in the way it interweaves English words and Gundungurra words.
Now soak up these powerful films made by First Nations directors.
Design credit: Juliette Davies
Editor's note: Urban List editors independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. Urban List has affiliate partnerships, so we get revenue from your purchases.