What is CALD writing?

Culturally and linguistically diverse writing (CALD) in Australia is a literature in crisis with many writers feeling disparaged by or excluded from mainstream platforms, festivals and publications. Structural discrimination works against writers of colour, as it works against queer writers, minority writers, First Nations writers, refugee writers. Their work is often represented in tokenistic or reductive ways. There are significant gaps, absences of discourse reflecting informed and sensitive responses to the intersections of race, class, gender and ability. Discrepancies in cultural capital for these writers has the effect of diminishing or silencing their stories. Funding organisations have not adopted strategic planning for the CaLD cohort in a cultural and economic climate that is precarious. Invariably they are required to assimilate, to flatten and adapt their stories to a conforming narrative of white heteronormativity.

What can be done?

Mascara collates qualitative data for the purpose of evaluating discrepancies between creative arts policy and cultural practice in Australia with regard to peak bodies, institutions as well as individual publishers and performance platforms.  The goal of this initial work is to establish the grounds and framework for further research to look at specific ways of closing the gap between the existing arts policy and a range of sustainable solutions that we hope will foster dialogue, extend access, improve the well-being of diverse writers and strengthen the representation of diverse writing in Australia.

Our Publishing: Books

Resilience, 2022 edited by Michelle Cahill, Monique Nair, Anthea Yang Ultimo Press
With a beautiful introduction founded on the values of inclusivity and community building. To celebrate its 15th year Mascara Literary Review presents their first print anthology, featuring writing that addresses and explores the theme of resilience through fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. In this anthology, writers explore the multiplicity of resilience – rebellious and experimental, paving the way to reclaim, rewrite and amplify.

deciBels3, (2018) a series of ten chapbooks by CaLD Australians published by Vagabond, edited by Michelle Cahill and Dimitra Harvey. Richly diverse in their cultures and communities, these poets trace their ancestries to South Asia and the Philippines, to North Asia, Europe, and South America. Their work encompasses a range of styles and voices that collectively challenges the biopolitics and narrow categories of white heteronormativity so powerful in the establishment.

Contemporary Asian Australian Poets
,(2012) published by Puncher and Wattmann, edited by Michelle Cahill, Boey Kim Cheng, Adam Aitken.
“From the quality of the works collected that the project… is a thoughtful, sensitively realised one that seeks to go beyond mere representation to explore a beautifully ambiguous, ambivalent and therefore more exciting set of linguistic, historical and cultural possibilities.”
— Eleanor Jackson

Our activities and advocacy

1. As members of a network of publishing and service organisations we advocate for issues that address CALD writers. This network includes Writing NSW, the Sydney Review of Books, Southerly, Varuna, The Writers House, Spineless Wonders, the Newtown Review of Books, Westwords, Sydney Story Factory. We independently collaborate with Writers Victoria.

2. We attended and support the 3rd National First Nations Australia Writers Network 24th to 26th August 2018 in Canberra.

3. We have offered support to a Diversity Count Project with Natalie Kon-Yu (Victoria University), Hella Ibrahim ( Djed Press), Jackie Tang (Editor-in-chief B+P), Marisa Wikramanayake, Tresa LeClerc (RMIT), Jasmeet Sahi (MWF), Mindy Gill (Editor-in-chief Peril). Mascara is no longer a direct consultant in this project.

4. We are especially interested to collate writers’ psychological responses (anonymous or otherwise) to discrimination or exclusion from publishing or performance platforms. How it may have affected self-esteem, confidence, artistic practice, psychological well-being, belief in their work, networks, a sense of belonging, community participation, career status, family commitments, financial status and the like. We are interested in how the effects of exclusion or not-belonging might be analysed within  psychological frameworks.

5. In 2019 we hope to provide a professional health service for Aboriginal, CALD & LGBTIQ writers, focussing on mentorship, psycho-social health, and offering a referral to other services that may be required. This is in recognition of structural and canonical discrimination.

6. We advocate for cultural diversity and intercept with the organizers of major Australian prizes, literary publications and festivals.  We collate qualitative data in content and digitally preserved hashtag forums (eg #Interceptionality, #MascaraPicks). We have designed a research survey exploring a sense of current representations, acquaintance with terminology, diversity monitoring, selection of judges criteria and future directions. Were it to become feasible we envisage this study would invite dialogue, and frame the basis of future planning which will inform, expand and diversify both curatorial participation and audiences. Participants in our preliminary research have included organisations such as Australian Poetry, the Vice Chancellor’s Poetry Prize, WILAA (Women in Literary Arts Australia), and The Australian Centre.

7. We are active in writing, thinking, publishing and advocating for more nuanced critical approaches to CALD literature, more diverse judging panels in arts organisations, and national prizes and greater diversity in the publishing sector.


8. Our role is to also intercept cultural narratives that marginalise, absent, domesticate or tokenise our subjectivity. By mapping and marking our absence and our resistance we are archiving ourselves as active participants in Australian literary culture. We theorise and hashtag this as #Interceptionality. By enabling transient but cumulative exchanges based on equal status interceptionality augments our social capital when public policy has failed to address inequalities of access. It is a methodology for counteracting the economic, political, academic and linear institutional forces that oppress and colonise marginal voices.

Our work has been described as follows:

‘In the case of Mascara, this internationalism takes on a critical and, indeed, explicitly political tone, in so far as its critique of Australian literary nationalism is also a critique of the exclusionary nature of an Australian nationalism that views its intellectual home as lying in the West (even though it is geographically located in Asia) and accordingly does not adequately represent Indigenous and migrant representations……
….. from this perspective, digital technology enables a journal like Mascara to challenge literary nationalism and create an alternative space for a more inclusive literary discourse.
…… a journal like Mascara seeks to alter them (‘existing literary networks’) by finding new spaces of inclusion.’

~ Emmett Stinson, ‘Little Magazines in the Digital Sphere’ in Creating Space in the Fifth Estate, Ed Phillip McIntyre, Janet Fulton, Cambridge University Scholars, 2017

and in Media International Australia:

…Transnational literary communities have also been formed. Michelle Cahill discusses her experiences with the Mascara literary epublication:

This kind of interaction is empowering. It is truly transnational and can operate outside pedagogical spaces, while still being interdisciplinary between creative and theoretical spaces. It is a kind of communication that does not rely on the economies of established authority to develop the discourse, creative writing and reviewing that literary journals like Mascara support … it signals the empowerment of minorities and subalterns to disseminate complex and sophisticated knowledge and to collaborate in order to further develop this. It really signals a deterritorialisation of otherwise impassable boundaries and barriers which previously held knowledge as an homogenised, central and economically privileged form of literary authority (Cahill, 2014).

~ Dr Jan Zwar


Cultural Weekly   article by Robert Wood on the need for strategic initiatives and navigating structural racism

Peril article by Lian Low, editor of Peril Magazine

artsHub   article by Richard Watts outlines the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding and effects on the CALD sector

Sydney Review of Books  article by Michelle Cahill ‘Who is Lobbying For Migrant Writers?’

Sydney Morning Herald Lionel Shriver and Identity Politics at Brisbane Writers Festival and the aftermath, by Susan Wyndham

Australian Women Writers Challenge article by Michelle Cahill ‘Impurities and Audacious Voices’

Sydney Review of Books article by Michelle Cahill ‘I am Doubt Itself: Criticism, Narrative, Ethics’

New Directions in Australian Poetry Ed Dan Disney and Matt Hall, Palgrave Macmillan 2021 chapter by Michelle Cahill ‘Shadowlands, or somewhere in the Australian Odyssey’

Record of Public Forums and Discussions

July 23 2014, Australian Poetry ConVo attended by Michelle Cahill with Lisa Gorton, Fiona Wright, Michael Sharkey, Kent MacCarter. See the video link.

Friday 21st August 2015, at The Wheeler Centre’s Workshop Space Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2015

4 November 2015 Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding Parramatta Hearing: Michelle Cahill (Mascara), Eleanor Jackson (Peril)

23 November 2015, Literary Roundtable at the Wheeler Centre attended by Lia Incognita, David Ryding, Mridula Chakraborty, Lian Low, Eleanor Jackson, Kent MacCarter and Jill Eddington

2 December 2015, Report of the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding at 2.117, 3.63-3.67, 5.40

22 September 2016, Talking Writing: Who’s Writing Who? NSW Writers’Centre Michelle Cahill, Ramon Loyola, Julie Koh, Sarah Saleh, Sheila Pham

20 May 2017, Feminartsy Ideas Fest the panel ‘Creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion’ was attended by Jo Langdon, our non-fiction editor: an interview with Jo Langdon

Fri 25th August 2017, 11.30-12.30pm 2017, Cultural Identity in Contemporary Poetry: Panel sponsored by Australian Poetry at the Queensland Poetry Festival  attended by Michelle Cahill with Sarah Holland-Batt ad David Musgrave,  Hosted by Toby Fitch

Jan 14 2018, POC Writers Count Skype Meeting with Natalie Kon-yu, Michelle Cahill, Jackie Xiao Yin, Hella Ibrahim, Tresa LeClerc, Jasmeet Sahi.

April 26th 2018, Public Forum and Symposium on Gate-keeping in Australian Culture with Sneja Gunew, Brian Castro, Mark Davis, Michelle Cahill. University of Adelaide J.M.Coetzee Centre CFP close 22 March.

June 29, 2018 Emerging Writers Festival, State Library of Victoria: with Hella Ibrahim, Michelle Cahill, Mindy Gill

July 7, 2018 Writing and Politics Literary Studies Convention ANU Copyright Agency Limited event. Historian Frank Bongiorno speaks to writers Jeanine Leane, Shannon Burns, Michelle Cahill, and Bruce Pascoe.

October 2022 -February 2023: Advice to Sydney Review of Books Survey of Literary Journals: a formal submission with primary and general recommendations was made by Anthea Yang, Monique Nair, Michelle Cahill

27 April 2023, Literary Journals Roundtable Panel Participation on the subject of “Safety and Inclusion” co-convened by Catherine Noske, Catriona Menzies-Pike and attended by Wenona Byrne.

31 May 2023 Essay in Mascara Literary Review on the need for strategy for the CaLD cohort


Literary Publications Panel, ASAL Conference 2020

Artistic director, Michelle Cahill speaks on publishing & structural racism, representation, agency. With Evelyn Corr, Jonathan Dunk Overland Journal, Westerly Magazine, Ellen Smith from JASAL,Tanya Dalziell & Julieanne Lamond from ALS and Catriona Menzies-Pike from Sydney Review of Books.

Past Research Assistants: Bronwyn Lang, Tresa LeClerc