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BY BERTRAND TUNGANDAME

Stewart Levitt, best known for his work as a lawyer successfully fighting public causes against banks and governments for the underdog, whether Indigenous outliers or impoverished farmers, has released an anthology of poems titled ‘Too Soon to be Late’.

In a conversation, held just before the Sydney launch of the book, Stewart Levitt explained that Too Soon To Be Late has been over twenty years in the making and draws on his liberal values, Jewish heritage as well as his experience as an Australian lawyer. 

In his career spanning over 40 years he’s defended people from all walks of life including those on the wrong side of the law. But lawyers have a legal obligation to represent those who hire them. A task they accomplish with various levels of enthusiasm.

“However, since about the beginning of the 21st century I’ve been very focused on working with Indigenous people, with victims of banks, with victims of large corporations, with victims of the insolvency industry and basically recognising that whether you are black, white or brindle you tend to get rolled-over by the big players in the community and there has been little accountability,” Mr Levitt said.

He says that poetry alongside other forms of literature and sport can be a very good vehicle to highlight social injustices and expose blatant racism and discrimination.

“One of the main missions of poetry, in my view, is to expose and motivate and inspire; and to inspire ordinary people to be aware and to be aroused and take action and not to be apathetic.”

In Too Soon To Be Late Stewart Levitt explores various themes associated with his career including social activism, politics and human rights, as well as personal experiences related to his close-knit family and travels around the globe.

Too Soon To Be Late by Stewart Levitt – Poetry book featuring art by Geoff Todd & Alan J. Duffy - 1

The book “Too Soon To Be Late” by Stewart Levitt with illustrations by Geoff Todd and Alan Duffy.

In the sidelines of the release of Too Soon To Be Late Stewart Levitt also launched the “Levitt Indigenous Poetry Prize” (L.I.P.P.); a biennial award acknowledging poems on political, social or personal themes of particular relevance to Indigenous Australians.

He says the idea of this poetry prize was inspired by an event held late last year in honour of Professor Gracelyn Smallwood in which the depth as well as the talent of Indigenous literature and poetry was on display.

It appeared to him that this First Nationss literary talent is grossly unrecognized and inadequately represented in the wider community. L.I.P.P will be open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous entrants in a bid to encourage all Australians to engage with Indigenous people and relate to them in a more positive way.

Entries to L.I.P.P will be scrutinized by a panel of expert judges -including prominent Indigenous personalities- from across the country.

The top three poems will receive a share of $20,000.  The best 100 to 150 entries will be compiled in a biennial anthology called the “L.I.P.P Edition” whose profits will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Stewart Levitt and his wife Odelia, hope that the Biennial Poetry Prize will help to channel emotion, eloquently and constructively and engage White and Black Australians in focusing on Indigenous issues in literature.