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Billy Marshall-Stoneking (1947 – )

Billy Marshall Stoneking Picture by Amin Palangi, Isfahan, Iran 2009. Photo courtesy of the author.

Billy Marshall-Stoneking was born in Orlando, Florida, USA, in 1947. He grew up on military bases around the United States, and after his family settled in northern California, attended high schools in Sacramento County. He emigrated to Australia in 1972 after graduating from California State University (Sacramento) with a major in English and a postgraduate qualification in Education. From 1972 to 1976 he taught English in rural Victoria and in the Northern Territory, and from 1978 to 1983, lived in the Papunya Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory, where he established a program to help local Pintupi and Luritja people write and read in their own language. In 1980, he edited for publication the Stories of Obed Raggett, written in Pintupi/Luritja, the first bi-lingual text published by an Indigenous Australian writer.

While living in remote Northern Territory communities, Stoneking began publishing his own poetry—strongly influenced by the history and mythology of the Pintupi and Luritja people—in Australian literary journals such as Overland and Westerly, and his first collection of poems, Ear Ink, appeared in 1979. A major collection, Singing the Snake: Poems from the Western Desert 1979–1988, was published by Angus and Robertson in 1990. With Eric Beach and others, he was involved in the foundation of the Poets Union of Australia. He was also involved in the performance poetry scene, and featured in the performance poetry anthology Off the Record, edited by Pi O (1985). In 1982, Stoneking enrolled in the screenwriting program at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney. He has since built a successful career as a playwright and scriptwriter and editor, stage, film and radio producer, and teacher and mentor. He has also written novels, Stringer (1988) and The Speed of Darkness(1989), and an autobiography, Taking America Out of the Boy (1993).

Poetry Collections
  • Ear Ink: poems (Papunya, NT: Dead Center Vanity Press, 1979).
  • Singing the Snake: poems from the Western Desert 1979–1988 (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1990).
Suggested Further Reading
  • Kevin Brophy, ‘Poems of a Mean Bugger,’ Australian Book Review no.119 (1990), pp. 37–38.
  • R.F. Brissenden, ‘A Matter of Seeing,’ Overland no.121 (1990), pp. 99–100.
  • Billy Marshall-Stoneking, Taking America Out of the Boy (Rydalmere, NSW: Sceptre, 1993).
  • Billy Marshall-Stoneking, ‘Around the Hills of the Giant Men,’ Overland no.85 (1981), pp.40–46.
  • Geoff Page, ‘ “They couldn’t tell us how to farm their skin”: White Poems on Black Dispossession,’ in Dennis Haskell and Ron Shapiro, eds., Interactions: Essays on the Literature and Culture of the Asia-Pacific Region (Nedlands, WA: UWA Publishing, 2000), pp. 171–83.
  • Geoff Page, ‘Billy Marshall-Stoneking,’ A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1995), pp. 186–88).
  • Nigel Roberts, ‘Billy Marshall-Stoneking,’ Overland no. 120 (1990), pp. 10–11.

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