Jax Jacki Brown has been at the forefront of increasing the prominence of writers with disability in publishing. Ahead of our Own Voices: Why Writing Matters forum in Wodonga, she talks about change, the importance of stories, and her involvement in WV’s new Publishability program.
You presented the writing workshop at the first Own Voices: Why Writing Matters forum in Ballarat more than a year ago. Has publishing changed for writers with disability since then?
I don't know if the publishing industry has changed (yet!), but more writers with disabilities are getting published, particularly by online publications. Writers with disability are connecting with each other more than ever before through the interwebs; we have access to each other’s writing and we have seen the rise of blogs, which can be a pathway to connection and sometimes to publication. We are on the cusp of seeing disability being viewed as an aspect of diversity, which is worthy of inclusion, so I think – I hope – we will begin to see real change. Writing, telling our stories for ourselves, is a huge part of leading that change.
What impact can supporting people to tell their own stories have?
Our lives are full of stories – it’s how we define ourselves and make sense of the world. For those of us who have been disadvantaged or ‘othered’, telling our story and writing it down can be an immensely powerful act. It can nurture our resilience and pride in ourselves and connect us to others. For many of us with disabilities, having space to tell our stories and to think about what disability means for us is such a valuable and rare thing. Telling our stories allows us to combat some of the stereotypes or assumptions we have been subjected to across our lives.
There are rarely spaces where people with disabilities can come together to write and discuss what disability means to us, so this forum is a really valuable and rare space to do that.
You recently appeared on the cover of a queer feminist magazine in Germany – is this an indication of the appetite for Own Voices stories?
I don't know about that! Apparently my friend who found the magazine in Berlin said it was ‘a trashy teen mag’ for LGBTIQ young people. The publishers had contacted me and asked if they could use my image, so they didn't just lift it and print it without my permission, which was good. But I think the fact that they had to reach out to an Australian LGBTIQ disability rights activist shows how few out and proud LGBTIQ disabled people there are, or perhaps that the editors aren’t connected to that community? It shows how valuable and, sadly, still ground-breaking my story of being queer and disabled is considered to be.
You have joined Writers Victoria to coordinate our new Publishability program. Can you tell us about this?
My role has two aspects. One is to support four writers with disability across the two years of the project – so two writers each year – to receive mentoring, editing, professional development opportunities and financial support to enable them to develop their manuscripts and submit them to interested publishers. Five publishing houses – Allen & Unwin, Echo Publishing, Hachette, Penguin Random House, and The Lifted Brow – have signed up to participate in the program, which is fabulous!
This year’s fellows are creative non-fiction writer Fiona Murphy and YA speculative fiction writer Mary Borsellino. We will choose two further fellows, who have previously received Write-ability Fellowships, in 2019.
The other aspect of the program is to work with Arts Access Victoria to tailor their existing disability awareness training package, Open Your Eyes, to the publishing industry. As an outcome of delivering the training to publishers, we will with Arts Access Victoria co-develop a toolkit for publishers on best practice language around disability.
It's a really exciting program which will see more writers with disabilities getting their work into the mainstream!
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Losing myself in it, forgetting my surroundings and arriving at places I wasn't expecting to end up at. I like how I can surprise myself and perhaps the reader. I also love that feeling of knowing when a piece is finished, feeling it form, whole under my fingers and knowing it’s ready to fly off into the world!
About Jax Jacki Brown
Jax Jacki Brown is a disability and LGBTIQ rights activist, writer and public speaker. Jax holds a BA in Cultural Studies and Communication where she examined the intersections between disability and LGBTI identities and their respective rights movements. She has written for 'Junkee', 'Daily Life', 'The Feminist Observer', Writers Victoria, ABC’s 'Ramp Up', 'Hot Chicks with Big Brains', and 'Archer Magazine: The Australian Journal for Sexual Diversity'. Jax is published in the following anthologies: 'Queer Disability Anthology' (2015), 'Doing It' (2016), 'Queer Stories (2018) and 'Kindred: A queer YA anthology' to be released in 2019 by Walker Books.