This thesis examines the role of the editor of Indigenous women's autobiographical narratives at a particular time and place in history: Australia at the turn of the second millennium. I argue that the emergence of this life writing as a distinctive phenomenon of the recent Australian publishing scene has particular implications for the role of the editor, above all when the editor is non- Indigenous. In this event, the work of editing becomes an exercise in cross-cultural communication — an urgent issue at this conjuncture, as Indigenous life writing is an important factor in change. The thesis examines these autobiographical narratives over the past thirty years and focuses particularly on a number of more recent texts. It also considers two case studies of manuscripts that I have worked on: If That You, Ruthie? (1999) and Bittersweet Journey (2003), both by Ruth Hegarty, winner of the 1998 David Unaipon Award for unpublished Indigenous writers.
The thesis examines the various roles of the editor of this minority writing in Australia; the problems of authorisation of text, narrative subject and collaborative relationship; the positioning of the text as cultural artefact, political tool, and commercial product; the writer's style; and reception and critiques of editing; and concludes by examining the place of protocols in the editorial process. Other issues of cross-cultural editing that are examined stem from the collaborative relationship and its power dynamic. They include the traditional invisibility of the editor, hence my examination of the way in which collaboration and editing are acknowledged in recent autobiographical writing by Indigenous women. This section also includes a discussion of the sharing of copyright and royalties. Identity, authority and authenticity — both of narrative subject and of text — are contested areas in this writing and have to be dealt with in the collaborative relationship.
Linked to questions of authenticity and identity is the use of marginalia: a means for authentication or a form of disempowerment? The maintenance of the writer's voice faces similar divergences, for example in the discussion of orality versus literacy. The use of language, particular Indigenous Englishes, is also at issue here, as are the content of the blurb and the choice of genre — more marketing than editorial decisions but important nonetheless. The writer's agenda for her book will be influenced by that of the editor—collaborator and of the publishing house — commercial imperatives will have greater impact when an editor is employed by the publishing house, and depend to some extent on the commitment of the publishing house to Indigenous writing, and on government financial support.
Because my interest in the subject has stemmed from practical experience I take a pragmatic approach: by examining how I have dealt with the editing of Indigenous autobiographical writing I explore the problems and conundrums that arose, and those that are presented in critiques of Indigenous writing and, especially, in critiques of its editing. The questions asked in this thesis, and the perspective taken, are practical ones: while there is much of interest in the theories surrounding editing in general and cross-cultural collaboration in particular, and some of this theory — especially the writings of editors who are also academics — illuminates this work and provides a context, its focus is the practice of editing. The questions explored in the thesis have come from my own experience of reading and editing this writing, and my desire to examine the issues and controversies that have arisen in my own work and in the collaborative work of others. If, as I contend, the editor's over-arching role is to serve the manuscript and its author's intent, these are areas I need to examine. Given the practical nature of this thesis, the construction of a list of protocols is an important outcome and one that may assist good editorial practice.