UNSW PhD graduate shortlisted for literary award

28 Mar 2018

Roanna Gonsalves_NSW Premier's Literary Awards

[Writer Roanna Gonsalves was awarded her PhD from UNSW in 2016. Photo: Supplied]

UNSW Sydney Creative Writing PhD graduate Roanna Gonsalves has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

Gonsalves’ debut book, The Permanent Resident, is one of six works shortlisted for the Multicultural NSW Award.

Worth $20,000, the award honours a work that considers any aspect of the Australian migration experience, and/or aspects of cultural diversity and multiculturalism in Australian society.

Gonsalves was awarded her PhD from UNSW in 2016 and for a time taught Creative Writing and Media Studies. She will return in Semester 2 as CAL (Copyright Agency Ltd) Writer in Residence, working on her historical novel about Governor Macquarie’s Indian servant.

During the three-month residency at the School of the Arts & Media, Gonsalves will also undertake master classes, which will be open to students and the general public, present a public lecture and be available for postgraduate and undergraduate student consultations.

Author Michelle de Kretser, winner of the 2014 Christina Stead Prize for fiction, will be CAL Writer in Residence in early 2019. Both residencies will foster new work in South-Asian Australian literature and enhance awareness of this unique and little-discussed field.

The Permanent Resident, published by UWA Publishing, is a collection of 16 stories from the Indian Australian community, describing the experiences of old settlers, new arrivals, impoverished students, young couples out of their social support systems, domestic violence perpetrators and victims, and more.

The judges describe Gonsalves’ stories as “a brilliant, entertaining and moving exploration of migrant life that, despite focusing on one migrant community, manages to tell universal truths”

“Across 16 short accomplished stories Gonsalves tackles racism, marriage, family, friendship, work and more. The superbly written narratives tell of the hardships of migration but do so using characters and stories that still remain largely unexplored and in many instances taboo,” the judges write.

“Not only do the stories invite us to relate individually to the characters Gonsalves has created, but they force us to interrogate what Australia really means to those of us who live in it in today.”

Gonsalves says she wrote most of the book at UNSW, “surrounded by the sound of students rehearsing to Stayin’ Alive, the smell of chilli basil noodles from the Quad food court, and the always tempting taste of a bargain at the gorgeous UNSW bookshop. Now I’m thrilled to be on this shortlist alongside some of Australia’s finest writers.

Roanna Gonsalves Book

“It’s truly wonderful that the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards recognises the work of writers who are trying to chronicle contemporary Australian life with its complications and differences, its hostilities and its intimate joys, through the Multicultural Award.”

Gonsalves came to Australia as an international student in 1998. Her creative work, and peer-reviewed scholarly work, have been published and performed across various media in India and Australia.

She is the co-founder co-editor of Southern Crossings, an Australian-based writers’ collective that aims to “re-imagine Australia, South Asia and the world through South Asian bodies and minds”.

In 2012 she received a Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Award, which allowed her to spend nine months in India to undertake fieldwork hosted by the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society and an internship working for Sangam House, a writer’s residency in Bangalore.

In 2015, her four-part series on contemporary multilingual Indian literature, On the tip of a billion tongues, was broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Earshot program.

You can read an extract from The Permanent Resident here.

Winners in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards will be announced on 30 April.