Retelling Untellable Stories: Ethics and the Literary Journalist

University of Wollongong
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Asia Pacific Media Educator, 2007, 18 (1), pp. 125 - 139
Issue Date:
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In 1950s northern Queensland, a pack of eighteen to twenty white youth drove a young black teenager to a deserted spot, and gang raped her, believing they had hidden their crime by killing her. Not only did she survive and grow up to have a prestigious academic and activist career, but she conceived a child in the attack, kept her baby and brought him up. Writer and academic Dr Roberta Sykes kept the secret of her son s conception from him for more than thirty years, finally writing him a letter about it. Psychologist Russel Sykes speaks about dealing with his mother s revelations, both the private and then the public airing in her trilogy Snake Dreaming, Autobiography of a Black Woman. Contextualising this narrative within the genre of literary journalism, its execution delves into theoretical discussions of empathy, first person narration and ethics when dealing with traumatic memory in subjects. It argues for an embracing of more first person use, as well as the loosening of the attendant stranglehold of detachment, teaching empathy as an effective tool within journalism education in Australia, particularly within the long form literary journalism.
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