Interview: Manhattan Dreaming, Anita Heiss

| 16 April , 2010 | Reply

Johanna Baker-Dowdell, Strawberry Communications

When 20-something Lauren Lucas is offered her dream job at the Smithsonian in New York, she should jump at the chance, right?

Lauren finds the decision a difficult one because it means leaving her wonderful life within the Canberra arts scene as a curator at the National Aboriginal Gallery, behind along with her friends Libby and Denise, but most of all, her on-off relationship with footballer Adam.

Deciding to take the plunge, Lauren finds herself living and working right in the middle of Manhattan, experiencing the cultural highlights of the Big Apple and attracting attention from men everywhere. As she gains more self confidence in herself – professionally and personally – Lauren learns about what she really wants.

Manhattan Dreaming is the third novel from Anita Heiss, who took the opportunity to cast Lauren and her friends as indigenous Australians and tell some of her own stories through her characters. “[Manhattan Dreaming] is an easy entry into engaging with indigenous issues and culture because it\’s a very simplistic story. I\’m trying to unpack the complication around who we are in terms of our identity and our diversity and how we exist in day-to-day life,” Ms Heiss, whose mother was born on a Cowra mission and father in Austria, explained. “The idea around these books is to engage a market that doesn\’t necessarily already engage with indigenous people\’s literature, stories, ideas, political views and so forth.”

So by weaving indigenous issues, such as the Tent Embassy in Canberra, revenue generated by indigenous Australian artists and the similarities between indigenous Australians and Native Americans, into her book, Ms Heiss has brought them into popular culture. “I want my writing, even though it\’s classified in the genre of ‘chick lit\’, to impact on the way people think, the way people engage with indigenous Australians, the way they behave towards indigenous Australians. I want to showcase the best that we\’ve got and I wanted to use that to drive the story as well.”

The issues Lauren and her friends face are not theirs only, but problems faced by all women. “That is the pain of heartbreak, the pain of rejection, the pain of infidelity, the spring you get in your step when someone fancies you, the thrill of going on a date, the realisation when someone actually treats you the way you should be treated and that\’s about being a human being,” she said. These are all issues that affect and shape us, no matter no matter what our race, age or where we live. “There are a whole lot of women who read this genre and they have never read a book by a blackfella before. They may not have heard of Anita Heiss before, but they\’ll pick up a book about a relationship because they\’re interested in that,” she added.

Many readers will smile wryly as Lauren explains her complicated relationship with footballer Adam, who would fit into the NRL code well with his off-field antics. “I already knew Adam was going to be a footballer when all this drama was happening with the NRL, but I thought it would be good to have a little bit of commentary about that,” Ms Heiss said. And then there\’s Cash Brannigan, whose name was created by one of Ms Heiss\’s Facebook friends. “I fell in love with Cash Brannigan. On the page he is the perfect guy – he\’s the perfect guy for me – but just not the perfect guy for Lauren,” she laughed.

So if you want good dose of chick lit, a look at important indigenous issues and an insider\’s look into the cultural centre of Manhattan, grab a copy of Manhattan Dreaming.

Available now: Random House RRP$32.95


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