Long before Alexis Wright was a towering figure in Australian letters, she took notes during community meetings in remote outback towns. Put to task by Aboriginal elders, her job was to take down their every word in longhand.
The work was laborious, and it soothed her youthful fervor for the change that seemed all too slow to arrive.
“It was good training, in a way,” she said in a recent interview at a public library close to the University of Melbourne, where until 2022 she held the role of Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature. “They were teaching you to listen, and they were teaching you patience.”
Wright, 73, is arguably the most important Aboriginal Australian — or simply Australian — writer alive today. She is the author of epic, polyphonic novels that reveal the patience, perseverance and careful observation she learned during those long hours of note-taking, books that stretch over hundreds of pages, in which voice upon voice clamors to be heard in a dynamic swirl of the fantastic and the bleak.
“Praiseworthy,” her fourth and latest novel, will be released by New Directions in the United States on Feb. 6, along with a reissue of “Carpentaria,” her most famous work.