Torres Strait Islander writer and prominent Uluru Statement campaigner Thomas Mayor spoke with us about beginnings, endings, being intrigued by his fellow First Nations writers, and the live political document and campaign that is his book Finding the Heart of the Nation.
Mayor is appearing in three MWF21 events: Uncomfortable Truths from Unceded Land curated by Marcia Langton; in conversation with Declan Fry; and in a panel on Dear Son, an anthology which shares heartfelt letters written by First Nations men about masculinity, love, culture and racism.
Tell us one of your first memories connected to writing.
My first memory of writing is from when I was in Year 6 at school. We were given time to write stories throughout the year, so I created a superhero character I named Moony Man, and also tried writing a horror story with all my friends in it. The memory stands out because we were given the freedom to write what we wanted to write, and I enjoyed it. I think this had an impact on my confidence to write creatively around thirty years later.
Can you speak a little about your creative process? How does your day begin and end?
My peak time for creativity in writing is in the morning after a coffee. The worst time is after lunch. I spend a lot of nights writing as well, especially if I have a deadline I need to meet. I find I write well while on a flight, especially if I am rested. I’ve always found my emotions are intensified while on a flight, which helps.
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
After Year 12, I developed my writing as a union delegate and then official, making arguments and using persuasion on behalf of workers. I took notice of the most effective ways others did this work— how they crafted their arguments—and it helped me to understand structure in writing. That, combined with reading fiction and non-fiction in my spare time, helped me write my first book pretty easily. The non-literary force that has shaped me has certainly been my feelings and emotions—the heartache and anger I feel at this country’s continuing harm to Indigenous peoples. It is the desire to move people to support a cause that is ultimately for the good of the entire nation that drove me to write books.
Which artists or writers most intrigue you at the moment and why?
My fellow First Nations writers intrigue me the most. There aren’t that many of us, but a trickle is turning into a flood of emerging First Nations writers—and it is about time. First Nations writers have the greatest wealth of stories on the planet, being the oldest living culture. And we are gaining the confidence to break the rules, to write our stories how we want to tell them, and to tell them with unapologetic truth. I love reading the work of poets like Kirli Saunders and Ellen van Neerven; newer novelists like Nardi Simpson and Lisa Fuller; our leaders and mentors such as Tara June Winch, Anita Heiss, Kim Scott and Melissa Lucashenko; essays and articles by Teela Reid and Megan Davis; and writers who have never written before, and may never write again, such as some of the authors of letters in my new book, Dear Son.
How did you know when your book Finding the Heart of the Nation was finished?
Finding the Heart of the Nation isn’t finished, really. Like the Uluru Statement, it is a live political document and a campaign. As I wrote in the follow-up children’s version, Finding Our Heart: ‘We will only find the heart of our nation and make our country better when First Nations Voices are heard.’
If there is something you never want to see the end of, what would it be?
Evolving to improve our capacity to empathise with all life and Country.
And conversely, what is one thing that could end today and you wouldn’t even notice?
Scott Morrison’s prime ministership. Where has he been lately???
Thomas Mayor is a Torres Strait Islander, a wharfie and National Indigenous Officer for the Maritime Union of Australia. He has tirelessly advocated for the proposals in the Uluru Statement since 2017, using the skills that he learnt as a union official and activist. Dear Son is his fourth book.
Find Thomas Mayor at MWF21.