Jewish Australian Speculative Fiction Event

by Sevgi Osman

After reading The Time of The Ghosts by Gillian Polack, I decided to participate in an event organized by my lecturers, where Jewish Australian authors gathered and talked about speculative fiction, specifically Jewish Australian speculative fiction. Since I was very interested in getting to know the author herself and what motivated her to write the book, I decided to listen, take notes, and afterwards write a blog post.

The event started with everyone introducing themselves. Gillian Polack started introducing herself by saying that as an author, she wrote eleven books. Next, Jack Dann introduced himself as someone who wrote over 75 books and won many awards which I found very impressive. Jason Franks introduced himself as an author who was born in South Africa but went to Australia later. Nonetheless, he wrote books that had a considerable number of Australian words in it, which is why he considers himself a Jewish Australian writer. Lastly, Rivqa Rafael, also a Jewish Australian writer, said that she has only written short stories and is an award-winner. She also studied psychology as well. Looking at all authors in one, they’re all very diverse but have one thing in common: writing Jewish Australian speculative fiction!

After the introductions were over, the lecturers of my Blogging Australian Speculative Fiction class asked the first question, which is: Do you, as an Australian speculative writer, see yourself as Jewish-Australian? Polack started by saying that she does see herself as Jewish Australian but had an identity struggle at first. Dann answers by telling us how he can consider himself Jewish Australian even though he is an Atheist. The other two writers, Franks and Rafael, also see themselves as specifically Jewish Australian although Franks didn’t consider himself to be that until he lived there and had also moved around (living, for example, in Japan for a time) and didn’t see himself as Jewish until recently.

Continuing the discussion, the question of how they deal with critique because of being a Jewish writer and what makes being a Jewish writer so different arose. Gillian Polack had to deal with bullying while growing up because of being Jewish. For her, writing speculative fiction means that she can express her feelings through telling stories. She was taught to tell stories, for example, about family history; what happened to her ancestors. They all agree that by writing Jewish speculative fiction one can improve the world a little bit more, because there is always someone out there who is going to relate to the stories and learn from it. Then there is Jack Dann, whose writing is not all Jewish-themed but he sees it as an overall exploration. At first he didn’t start writing about Judaism because he felt like he was in danger for being Jewish. He thought that if people perceived him as a Jew, they were going to point a gun at him. All four of these creative authors explain that they see Jewish speculative fiction as approaching tragedy through the realms of fantasy and science fiction.

Rivqa Rafael mentioned that Polack’s writing is a mirror to her experience, that she writes her stories by remembering her past. Gillian Polack has mentioned that she didn’t have it easy growing up: she was being put on the spot as a Jewish author, people have asked her to deny the Holocaust and bothered her since she was of a very young age. As a medievalist, Polack had to answer quite a lot of weird and antisemitic accusations, for example that she supposedly “drinks babies blood”, or killed Christ. As difficult as it may have been from a young age, Polack does not let others make her feel uncomfortable for being Jewish. She sees her writing as therapeutic and wants to share her life through fiction.

All in all, speculative fiction is now breaking boundaries and awards are being presented, which makes Jewish Australian writers more visible. All four of these Jewish Australian authors share a mutual opinion about their writing: it is the journey to discovery, especially since it is also a part of a Jewish cultural tradition to tell stories and use humour to talk about hurtful things to cope with their past. But all authors are unique and never write in the same forms, they all share their different experiences and put them into little stories for others to read and relate. This was an overall wholesome event and I enjoyed listening to successful authors talk about their work and share their thoughts on Jewish Australian writing. By having read The Time of The Ghosts and seen where these Jewish Australian authors got their motivation to write from, I am looking forward to reading more Australian speculative fiction in the future.