Magabala Books named ABIA Small Publisher of the Year

[by Scott Rochfort]

Magabala Chairperson, Edie Wright and her granddaughter, Harriet with Magabala authors Bruce Pascoe and Jasmine Seymour with their respective titles – 'Young Dark Emu' and 'Baby Business' – at the 2019 CBCA Conference in Canberra. Image Magabala Books.

Australia’s leading Indigenous publishing house Magabala Books has been named the Small Publisher of the Year at the 2020 ABIA Australian Book Industry Awards, where three of its titles were also shortlisted.


The ABIA award, announced this afternoon, recognises the excellence of Magabala’s publishing programme and its contribution to the overall success of the book industry in Australia. Magabala’s Chairperson Edie Wright said:


“This award is the culmination of 33 years of hard work. All those years ago, our Elders and cultural leaders showed such courage, vision and determination to establish Magabala Books. We dedicate this award to those Elders, and to all our storytellers, authors and illustrators from around Australia.”


Magabala Publisher Rachel Bin Salleh said:


“Our founding Elders, some of whom experienced first contact, understood the power of the written word and saw the opportunity to take back control of their stories. This motivation at the heart of Magabala is just as relevant today.


“We have always felt strongly that Magabala is, and must remain, a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can stand in their own truths. This means being prepared to challenge the status quo, breaking down stereotypes, and never assuming that great stories need to emerge from ‘literate’ individuals and communities.


“For Magabala, it has always been a complex juggling act of cultural, social and economic objectives. Whilst last year was the most successful in terms of sales, this award is also recognition of the breadth of what we do, including our extensive creative development work all over Australia.


“We are an incubator, nurturing careers, and we are a cultural guardian, protecting IP rights and cultural integrity,” said Ms Bin Salleh.


The Magabala titles on the ABIA shortlist included Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu for the Book of the Year for Younger Children; Kirli Saunders’ Kindred for the Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year; and Sally Morgan and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr’s Little Bird’s Day for the Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year. Jane Seymour’s Baby Business, and Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson’s Cooee Mittigar, were named on the ABIA longlist.


The ABIA award marks what has already been a hugely successful year for Magabala and its authors and illustrators, who have won and been nominated for numerous awards.


In addition, Magabala authors and illustrators Bruce Pascoe, Leanne Mulgo Watson, Jasmine Seymour and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr were recently shortlisted in the 2020 CBCA Book of the Year Awards; and Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu was shortlisted for the 2020 Indie Book Awards, and the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards along with Rachel Bin Salleh and Samantha Fry’s Alfred’s War.


In February, Rachel Bin Salleh was awarded the inaugural Writing WA Literary Lions Medal for her commitment and contribution to Western Australia’s literary culture.


Bruce Pascoe said: “If you think you can fully understand a country without learning from 120,000 years of considered governance and philosophy then you will miss part of your own life. Magabala facilitates this understanding with the sharing of our thoughts and words. And because of that, you share our country. I have been publishing with Magabala since 2000 and while only half of my 35 books have been published there, Magabala is where I receive the best editorial. And they are my friends.”


Kirli Saunders said: “It thrills me to see Magabala recognised by the ABIA 2020 Awards for Small Publisher of the Year. Magabala are the leaders in Australia's First Nations publishing, with their culturally safe, reciprocal and careful projects that honour our people, stories, languages, landscapes and cultures. I feel honoured to have been nurtured by them, and would not be the writer I am without Magabala's ongoing support and encouragement!”


Magabala’s Chief Executive Anna Moulton said: “There are challenges in being one of the most remote publishing houses in the world, but being based in Broome is one of our greatest advantages. The Kimberley is where our cultural roots are, and these foundations keep us grounded.”


Magabala’s Deputy Chairperson Tony Lee said: “This award, and Magabala’s growing success reflects that readers are more interested in First Nations perspectives and stories today, than ever before. There are important shifts happening in this country, and we are incredibly optimistic about the future of Magabala Books and First Nations literature.”


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