50 great reads from First Nations writers & Australian writers of colour in 2020
Each year we compile a list of great reads by Australian women, originally inspired by the Australian Women Writers Challenge which begun in 2012 and continues to this day (find this year’s list here).
To acknowledge the work of culturally diverse Australian writers of all genders, we have compiled this second list of 50 great reads by First Nations writers and Australian writers of colour published in 2020. The following books are displayed in no particular order and include fiction, biography, poetry, children’s novels, history and more.
Please note that as ever, this is not a complete list of every such read published this year. You can find more books from local authors published in 2020 here.
And for those looking to read more books from gender diverse authors, we’ve also put together a list of 15 great reads from writers around the world published this year. Find it here.
1. Talkin' Up to the White Woman (20th Anniversary Edition) by Aileen Moreton-Robinson
An essential read and just as relevant now as it was upon its release two decades ago, this is a brilliant profile of exclusionary white feminism.
2. Fire Country by Victor Steffensen
A vital memoir by First Nations land management expert Victor Steffensen that champions using traditional fire practices to care for our unique landscape.
3. Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe
Set in the goldfields of Northern Queensland, Mirandi Riwoe’s award-winning historical novel explores exile, belonging and displacement with subtle grace and embodies the rich detail of nineteenth century life.
4. Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia by Bruce Pascoe & Vicky Shukuroglou
This immersive and beautifully designed book shows 18 places in Australia through First Nations narratives, covering history, Dreaming stories, traditional cultural practices, local tours and the importance of recognition and protection of place.
5. Our Home, Our Heartbeat by Briggs, Kate Moon & Rachael Sarra
Adapted from Briggs’s celebrated song, ‘The Children Came Back’, this picture book honours the oldest continuous culture on earth as it looks to the history, present and future of First Nations people. For ages 6 and up
6. A Lonely Girl Is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu
A scorching debut about a former violin prodigy battling her past demons. With vivid prose, Jessie Tu has crafted a novel that will draw you in and won’t let you go.
7. Throat by Ellen van Neerven
Intimate yet far-reaching, Throat is bright star Ellen van Neerven’s explosive second poetry collection.
8. Guwayu, For All Times edited by Jeanine Leane
Journey through a range of poetic forms – lyric, confessional, protest, narrative and song – in these 61 fierce and powerful poems commissioned by Red Room Poetry over the past 16 years. Spanning 12 First Nations languages, this is an exquisite expression of culture and reclamation.
9. Living on Stolen Land by Ambelin Kwaymullina
Powerfully written in prose poetry by award-winning author Ambelin Kwaymullina, this thought-provoking work speaks to many First Nations' truths: stolen lands, sovereignties, time, decolonisation, First Nations perspectives and systemic bias.
10. Top End Girl by Miranda Tapsell
With her familiar wit and warmth, Miranda Tapsell takes readers through her childhood, her rise in the performing arts, and the path she took to create the critically acclaimed film, Top End Wedding.
11. A Question of Colour by Patricia Lees with Adam C Lees
In this moving memoir of resilience and testimony, Pattie Lees recounts her experience growing up on Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement after she and her four siblings were cruelly removed from her family.
12. When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Written and illustrated by award-winning author and poet Maxine Beneba Clarke, this proud and powerful picture book shows a black child’s parents explaining what the term Black Lives Matter means to them. For ages 3 and up.
13. Sweatshop Women Volume 2 edited by Winnie Dunn
This second collection of writing from the Western Sydney writers movement features exciting work from a diverse group of writers across a range of genres.
14. Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan
Elizabeth Tan’s second work of fiction is a collection of stories that pushes the form but never alienates the reader. A marvellous read full of incisive commentary and pin-sharp prose.
15. Finding Our Heart by Thomas Mayor, illustrated by Blak Douglas
Following in the examples of Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu and Marcia Langton’s youth edition of Welcome To Country, Thomas Mayor’s remarkable celebration of the Uluru Statement has been adapted for young readers. For ages 8 and up.
16. The F Team by Rawah Arja
Tariq Nader and his close mates from Punchbowl High are thrust into a football team with their rivals from Cronulla in this nuanced portrait of a Lebanese-Australian teen coming to terms with how to be a good friend, family member and leader. For ages 13 and up.
17. Found by Bruce Pascoe, illustrated by Charmaine Ledden-Lewis
A calf searches for his mother in the outback in this gentle picture book introduction to the Stolen Generations, illustrated by the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award, Charmaine Ledden-Lewis. For ages 3 and up.
18. & 19. Respect and Family by Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy & Jasmine Seymour
A great way to invite children to learn more about First Nations culture, these two tender picture books also explore important themes of how respect and family can help to make us feel whole. For ages 5 and up.
20. Into the Suburbs by Christopher Raja
Christopher Raja’s affecting and oftentimes funny memoir charts his family’s move from Calcutta to Melbourne, the hopes and dreams held, the generational and cultural gaps created, and the shock of a tragic and unexpected loss.
21. Fire Front: First Nations Poetry and Power Today edited by Alison Whittaker
This poetry anthology showcases some of Australia’s leading First Nations poets alongside rising stars in a powerful testament to the radical power of the form.
22. Turbulence by Thuy On
This collection of poetry from writer and editor On is mesmerising and emotionally complex. Engaging with themes of romance, rejection, desire and more, this work conveys so much about modern relationships.
23. Coming Home to Country by Bronwyn Bancroft
This picture book from one of our most beloved children’s book authors is a visual and lyrical depiction of the experience of coming home to Country. It will encourage readers to reflect on their connection to the land and its spirit. For ages 2 and up.
24. The Coconut Children by Vivian Pham
This tender, coming-of-age novel tells the story of two Vietnamese-Australian families living in Cabramatta in the late nineties.
25. Ngaginybe Jarragbe: My Story by Shirley Purdie
Shirley Purdie is a renowned Gija artist. Growing up, her mother taught her about the bush, and how to make art. This charming picture book tells the story of her life through her paintings.
26. Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore
Biracial Black teen Dylan comes face to face with her grief and a side of herself she’s never wanted to own in this assured YA debut that’s moving, thought-provoking and dryly funny. For ages 14 and up.
27. To Asia, with Love by Hetty McKinnon
Hetty McKinnon is back with another instant cookbook classic, this time dedicated to the comforting and simple-to-make joys of Asian home cooking.
28. Spotlight by Solli Raphael
Following on from the success of Limelight, prize-winning teenage poet Solli Raphael explores thought-provoking issues such as disconnection, bullying and climate change in this collection of traditional and performance poems. For ages 12 and up.
29. Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai
Presented in the form of a 12-year-old’s top-secret notebook, this middle-grade story of a young boy’s solo journey to see his father is full of sweet and funny moments, and establishes Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlistee Remy Lai as a children’s author to watch. For ages 9 and up.
30. Willy-willy Wagtail (Tales from the Bush Mob) by Helen Milroy
The first book in a new junior fiction series about a group of animals that work together, Willy-willy Wagtail sees the Bush Mob put aside their differences to save the community from a terrible bush fire. For ages 5 and up.
31. Revenge by S. L. Lim
In this powerful novel of feminism and family, a sister is driven to seek revenge after years of being treated as second-best to her brother.
32. Where the Fruit Falls by Karen Wyld
Karen Wyld’s evocative debut novel follows Aboriginal woman Brigid Devlin and her twin daughters as they navigate a troubled nation of First Peoples, settlers and refugees in an intergenerational story of self-acceptance, truth and justice.
33. Benevolence by Julie Janson
Set in the 1800s, this historical novel is a fictionalised account of the Parramatta Native School. Conceived by Janson as an ‘Aboriginal answer to The Secret River’, it is a powerful account of survival both during and beyond institutionalisation.
34. Maar Bidi: Next Generation Black Writing edited by Elfie Shiosaki & Linda Martin
Meet a new generation of young black writers in this beautifully crafted, evocative and poignant anthology of prose and fiction that makes connections between the old and the new, the ancient and the contemporary, in a variety of ways.
35. After Australia edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad
Stories of love, courage and hope abound in this groundbreaking short fiction anthology featuring eleven of Australia’s most daring Indigenous writers and writers of colour imagining what Australia might become as we head toward the year 2050.
36. Sweet, Savory, Spicy by Sarah Tiong
From Laotian meatballs to beef satay, Sarah Tiong’s first cookbook is a tantalising ode to the delicious, bold flavours and exciting textures of southeast Asian food.
37. Collisions: Fictions of the Future edited by Leah Jing McIntosh, Hassan Abul, Adalya Nash Hussein & Cher Tan
Featuring works by some of this country’s most exciting writers, established and emerging, this unmissable collection brings together the experimental, genre-bending, lucid stories of the future from the inaugural LIMINAL Fiction Prize longlist.
38. Homeland Calling edited by Ellen van Neerven
Written by young First Nations poets and performcers from remote and regional communities, Homeland Calling is a hip-hop poetry collection, rich in rhyme and passion, that channels culture and challenges stereotypes.
39. A Gay Guy’s Guide to Life Love Food by Khanh Ong
Masterchef contestant Khanh Ong shares his favourite family recipes in this fun mix of funny anecdotes, breezy advice and above all, delicious meals that demonstrate how food can bring us together.
40. Towards the End by Ali Alizadeh
Ali Alizadeh’s latest poetry collection is a fusion of social satire, gothic dystopia and historical materialism, interwoven with autobiographical reflection.
41. This Small Blue Dot by Zeno Sworder
This expansive and colourful picture book follows a curious girl as she encounters the big and small things in life, the power of imagination and wisdom passed on from the author’s Chinese grandmother and British father.
42. A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill
This latest book in the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries involves a journey across America, a suspicious death and a baffling disappearance.
43. What Do You Call a Baby…? by Kamsani Bin Salleh
This adorable board book introduces babies and toddlers to the words we use to describe iconic Australian baby animals, including eaglets (baby eagles) and puggles (baby wombats). For ages 0 and up.
44. Hello, Hello by Children from the Spinifex Writing Camp
Published by the Indigenous Literary Foundation and written by students from Laverton, Menzies and Tjuntjuntjara remote community schools, Hello, Hello is an atmospheric picture book about the discoveries and surprises lying in the shadows on a night walk.
45. One Bright Moon by Andrew Kwong
With a born storyteller’s voice, GP Andrew Kwong details his family’s harrowing and extraordinary history in Mao’s China, his escape to Hong Kong, and the long path to Australia and reunion with his family.
46. Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson
An epic multigenerational story that depicts with great care and consideration the ongoing effect of colonisation and how, generation by generation, bit by bit, one family resists. This is the debut novel from 2018 blak&write! writing fellow Nardi Simpson.
47. Little Jiang by Shirley Marr, illustrated by Peggy Jiang
This fresh and funny take on an old Chinese legend sees undead Little Jiang hopping out of his grave and befriending cursed Mei’s life, helping her overcome family challenges and supernatural threats to her hometown. For ages 8 and up.
48. The Tiniest House of Time by Sreedhevi Iyer
The perspectives of two strong young women in an Indian-Malay family – grandmother and granddaughter – deliver a gripping story that ranges from colonial Burma in the 1930s to nationalist Malaysia in the 1990s, to Hong Kong and Australia.
49. Windfall: Unlocking a Fossil-Free Future by Ketan Joshi
Renewable energy expert Ketan Joshi looks back at Australia’s destructive and stubborn reliance on toxic fuels, and then forwards to explore a future where communities champion equitable and sustainable clean tech projects.
50. Late Murrumbidgee Poems by John Mukky Burke
An exuberant expansive collection of poems that embraces topics such as death, desire, place and Aboriginal politics and identity. Read Miles Franklin Award-winning author Melissa Lucashenko’s introduction to the collection here.