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Tiddas: Heiss takes novel from the page to centre stage

Eelemarni Close-Brown -

When Anita Heiss was studying history at UNSW in the early 1990s, she was frustrated that all the books on the curriculum were written by non-Indigenous people.

During her honours year, Dr Heiss, a Wiradjuri woman who went on to earn her PhD, even had to read a book about Aboriginal people written by someone who had never visited this country.

That lack of representation of First Nations authors is what inspired her to become an author herself.

Dr Heiss has written novels, poetry, a memoir, edited anthologies and is an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Her first book Sacred Cows was published in 1996 by Magabala Books.

Since then she has gone on to publish across multiple genres including non-fiction, historical fiction, popular fiction and children's novels.

Her work includes the well-regarded memoir Am I Black Enough For You?, the historical novel Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937, The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, co-authored with Peter Minter and Kicking Goals with Goodesy and Magic, co-written with AFL champions Adam Goodes and Michael O'Loughlin.

Dr Heiss' popular fiction includes Not Meeting Mr Right, Avoiding Mr Right, Manhattan Dreaming, Paris Dreaming and Tiddas.

"I had no idea that I would go on to write other books and it wasn't until many years later that I fell in love with First Nations storytelling and then everything just snowballed," she told AAP.

In 2022, Tiddas was adapted for the stage and debuted at the Brisbane Festival.

Tiddas means sisters and is often used by Aboriginal women to refer to their female friends.

The play centres around five female best friends who meet once a month to talk about books, lovers, and the jagged bits of life in between.

"Tiddas is a story that celebrates the strength of sistahood in all its complexities," Dr Heiss said.

"It's about what connects us as First Nations women, but also what, where and how we find similarities with our non-Indigenous women friends - what makes us the same as them."

Adapting the novel for theatre meant writing as part of a team, the complete opposite of her usual practice.

"When you're writing a novel it's just one-on-one with your editor or publisher and then all of a sudden you're in a room with a whole creative team," Dr Heiss said.

Dr Heiss said that her aim with Tiddas was for audience members to feel an appreciation for the women in their lives – mothers, sisters, friends, and colleagues.

The play will have its Sydney debut at the Belvoir from January 12-28 as part of Sydney Festival's 2024 Blak Out program.

Eelemarni Close-Brown - AAP

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