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Of movement and migration

Alumnus of The University of New South Wales, Roanna Gonsalves from Goa recently headlined at the Writing Contemporary Australia panel event hosted by UNSWriting.

The emerging author, who won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Multicultural Prize last year for ‘The Permanent Resident’, is finishing her residency at UNSW.

The panel event also hosted UNSW Writer-in-Residence, the award-winning writer Michelle de Kretser, in conversation with another South-Asian Australian author Suneeta Peres da Costa. Peres da Costa was born in Sydney to parents of Goan origin and writes fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry.

The three writers of South-Asian backgrounds discussed how writers can explore and navigate the currents of everyday life, with migration and movement across worlds, a common experience, which unfolds differently for different people.

“Australia is seen as a White nation, as is Canada and America and New Zealand in many ways,” said Roanna. “My work is a deliberate attempt to disrupt this narrative … It is also an attempt to reimagine what it means to be an Indian today. As an Indian and now also an Australian, I write from the cultural peripheries of both nations. All the stories in my book ‘The Permanent Resident’ are about outsiders.”

She said a reading of Michelle de Kretser’s work will result in seeing “in a new way, the power hierarchies that can exist between neighbours, you will understand the experience of travel in a new way, you will have a fresh perspective on Australia, on class privilege, on the literary world”.

Peres da Costa, whose new work – which is funded by the Copyright Agency Limited – is set in India, said the topic of the panel event is timely and resonant. “Since my new novella ‘Saudade’ was published last year, I realised I have always been writing stories about migration, cultural difference, borders, colonisation, wars of independence and sovereignty – and the mythologies about race and ‘Others’ which the nation state engages in,” she said. “My two book-length works, ‘Homework’, and ‘Saudade’, are about diaspora, home-making and un/belonging in colonial and postcolonial societies, with Goan and Indian identity at the centre of that experience.”

Peres da Costa said the two writers “allow us to see how characters connect and fail to connect with others; with Australia and with the world; how we misunderstand each other and ourselves because of prejudice, ignorance, hypocrisy, ambition and vanity – and yet the writing creates a bridge to understanding all of this”. She said injustice has always propelled her to write. “I want the reader to empathise or at the very least for the text to elicit sympathy so that they might better understand the characters’ motivations, journeys and destinations.”

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