We Are Here: Stories of Home, Place and Belonging is a world-first collection of stories and poems by people who have experienced homelessness. Published by Melbourne’s Affirm Press, it will be in bookshops mid-November 2019. The book launched with a sold-out event for 250 guests at the Wheeler Centre.
The anthology showcases the talents of 37 writers and 4 visual artists. Themed around “PLACE”, and featuring full-colour images and artworks, it’s a powerful collection of true stories that illuminate, challenge, and re-imagine our place in the world.
“A beautiful testament to survival, resilience and hope.” – Ben Law
Along with a wealth of unsung and emerging talent, We Are Here also features new work by award-winning authors, including Krissy Kneen, Behrouz Boochani, Claire G. Coleman, Josiane Behmoiras, Gregory P. Smith, Jon Bauer and Thuy On, with a foreword by celebrated novelist and short story writer Tony Birch. The book was edited by author and academic Meg Mundell (The Trespassers, 2019; Black Glass, 2011). Thanks to a 2019 City of Melbourne Arts Grant, all the writers and artists were paid.
Drawn from real-life experiences, the writing in We Are Here is original, sharply observed and honest. From the Wurundjeri people’s traditional fishing grounds to the humid hell of Manus Island; from gentrifying Saint Kilda to the tough streets of Bangkok; from dodgy boarding houses to remote cattle stations; from dingy back lanes to exclusive art galleries – We Are Here offers fresh insights into how we experience, imagine and understand place.
By turns heart-rending and humorous, gritty and erudite, these tales offer glimpses into emotional landscapes both unique and shared. Expect a book that will surprise, delight, and challenge; an object of beauty that honours the stories within; 40+ thought-provoking tales on a topic that connects us all.
PLACE is the unifying theme. Around half of the pieces touch on personal experiences of homelessness; the rest explore place in all its multifaceted richness, delving into themes of belonging, memory, home, childhood, hope, loss, community, and city life. Contributors were not required to publicly reveal their past or present living circumstances.
Place = meaningful location. Places are where our lives happen, where our memories are made, where our relationships form – and where they are tested. Places shape who we are, and who we become.
>How is “homelessness” defined?
In Australia, “homelessness” covers a range of experiences: living in a caravan park, rooming house, refuge, crisis accommodation, or transitional housing; squatting, couch-surfing with friends or relatives, sleeping rough or in a vehicle, or living in other precarious, overcrowded, or temporary forms of shelter.
Experiences of homelessness vary widely, but common threads include poverty, inability to access the rental market, and a mix of other structural, socioeconomic, and/or personal barriers to being safely housed. The biggest contributing factor to Australian’s fast-growing homelessness crisis is a chronic national shortage of affordable housing.
> Who funded the project?
The book project was made possible thanks to a 2019 City of Melbourne Arts Grant, which provided funding to pay all the writers for their work. Affirm Press covered the costs of producing and distributing a handsomely designed full-colour book. The entire CoM grant was used to pay contributing writers and visual artists, and to fund two public events – a sold-out launch at The Wheeler Centre, and a public reading in early 2020. Any profits from book sales will be donated to the project’s four key non-profit partner organisations, and used to fund creative programs for people who have experienced homelessness.
>How did the project originate?
The book originated from an ongoing research project and a series of creative writing workshops, run in 2018 and funded by Deakin University and StreetSmart Australia. Workshop writers were recruited in partnership with the wonderful staff at Launch Housing, Roomers magazine, (Elwood St Kilda Neighbourhood Learning Centre), The Big Issue Australia, Unison Housing, and the Peer Education and Support Program (PESP) at Council to Homeless Persons. All the writers have some connection to Melbourne.
>What inspired the book?
Place is a common thread connecting us all: places are where our lives unfold, where our memories are made, where our relationships form – and are tested. Places are emotionally loaded, and rich with stories. We yearn for lost places, retreat to safe havens, venture into uncharted territory. Places shape who we are, and who we become.
But how do people who have lived without a secure home understand place? How does homelessness shape the places and people you encounter, and the way you think about belonging, home, and community? How does being “out of place” – without a home – affect how you experience the world?
Australia has a large shadow population of people for whom homelessness is a daily reality. Numbering around 116,000 nationally, they’re a diverse group: daughters and mothers, nephews and grandfathers; older women, tertiary students, Indigenous Australians and immigrants; people who’ve worked hard, raised families, lived full lives. Yet while they share our common humanity, “the homeless” are often stereotyped, vilified, dismissed, or blamed. They are spoken for, and spoken about; their voices seldom heard, their creativity often ignored.
We Are Here sets out to change that. This exciting collection is the first book-length work to showcase writings by this diverse and overlooked group of Australians.
>Who’s running the project?
The “We Are Here” project is run by Melbourne-based novelist, journalist, and academic Meg Mundell (author of The Trespassers, UQP, August 2019; and Black Glass, Scribe, 2011). A former deputy editor of The Big Issue Australia, Meg is now an interdisciplinary researcher exploring place, narrative, homelessness and spatial justice. To stay up to date with the project, and for details of public events, follow Meg on Twitter: @MegMundell
Scrolling image credits (all from Unsplash.com)
- Train window: Usamah Khan
- Wet street with reflected lights: Joshua K. Jackson
- Compass on white background: Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz
- Tree with love-heart graffiti: Glenn Carstens Peters
- Suitcases: Erwan Hesry
- Hands holding compass & map: Daniil Silantev
- Tattooed arm: Don Ross III
- Map of Australia with pins: John Tyson