Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai Woman and award-winning international Children’s Author and Poet as well as a Teacher, and Artist. She created Poetry in First Languages, delivered by Red Room Poetry.

Her debut picture book The Incredible Freedom Machines was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and CBCA notables. Her poetry collection, Kindred was shortlisted for the ABIA 2020 Book Awards and FAB Booktopia Awards. She is the inaugural winner of the Daisy Utemorrah Award and University of Canberra ATSI Poetry prize (2019).

Kirli is an esteemed judge for the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and Val Vallis Award. Kirli is the 2020 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year. Her next book, Bindi (Magabala) will be available in October.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do? What's your purpose? 

I'm a writer and artist. I've just left my full time arts project management role at the beloved Red Room Poetry to pursue full time writing. I'm working on a play - Going Home, with thanks to Play Writing Australia and Merrigong Theatre Co. I'm also working on a Visual Poetry Collection and Exhibition titled Returning with thanks to Australia Council For the Arts. My purpose with alignment to the First Nations spiritual Dreaming is to be a story teller and a teacher this manifests as an artist, poet, teacher, playwright and community arts practitioner.

What is something you've learned about yourself this year? 

When we are vulnerable and lean into softness and accept ourselves, we are accepted by others and as we do so, we allow space for them to find softness, and vulnerability and acceptance. This cycle of giving and forgiving and allowing is powerful and necessary, and if we all did this more, our worlds would be kinder places.

What do you love about yourself? 

I love my creative flow - I try and live my poem (after Dr Tamryn Bennett), and sometimes a poem shows up as a yoga session, a surf, a cake I'm baking for a friends birthday, a picture book I'm shaping after years of grasping at the idea, or song I'm playing on guitar or a piece of prose I'm working on for a play. I love my ancestral spirituality and intuition, I feel so grateful to be guided on a path by my Old People, and my family. I love that I'm an uplifter, that Ive been gifted with the skills to hold space, and shape opportunities for young people to step into themselves. I love that I'm a wordsmith, and an articulate communicator - It helps me to fulfil a role as an educator. I love that I'm my Mother's and Father's Daughter. I love that I'm a Sister, an Aunty and a Granddaughter. I love the skin I'm in, the stories, traumas, moments and places I've inherited. Being all of these things makes me, me and I've accepted that I, as I am have worth, I'm important and I matter.

Photo By Sarah Tedder

When we do reach gender equality, what does this world look like to you? 

Safe, accessible, powerful (instead of power hungry), grounded and supportive.

What do you believe are the behaviours that hold women back? 

Playing small/ not taking up space, I'm guilty of this one too. I think we've been socialised into thinking we can't be loud/angry/challenging/ emotionally vulnerable/ powerful and that we need to curate our actions and responses in order to be accepted, and loved and that's so false!

What has been your boldest move to date? 

Quitting my full time job and pursuing a life as a creative. It's been such a big shift to step into working on a play, poetry collection and exhibitions and picture books. I'm so grateful to have had wonderful role models who've helped me stay grounded and bold as I've made the recent shift.

What's your call to action for women? 

My Maori friend, Aunty Annie (Annie Te Whiu) taught me about mana, I don't know a First Nations language word equivalent in Australia. Mana in my interpretation is a word which refers to a wealth of things, but among them spiritually influential courageous power that is humble, grounded and transformational. It is my hope that Womxn embody mana, that they know their profound power, that they sit in that space and create from it, and that they guide others to being in their own ancestral ground shaking, heart-beating mana too.


You can listen to Kirli's interview on Spotify and all good podcasting apps. 


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