November 15, 2022
This year we launched a new elder-in-residence program where we enabled three senior writers the opportunity to work on their creative practice at Centre for Stories over three months, receiving a $3,000 stipend for their time. This was made entirely possible by donations from our community and we are now calling on our community to support this wonderful program once again.
The inaugural 2022 elders were award-winning poet and literary critic Dennis Haskell, Chinese historian and researcher Kaylene Poon, and bilingual poet and short story author Sunil Govinnage. Our selected residents were not only able to continue working on their projects in a safe and supported environment, but they also gave back to our community of emerging writers by providing feedback and mentoring, and participating in events such as our titular elders-in-residence In Conversation panel and facilitating Alf Taylor’s Cartwarra or What? book launch.
One of our Hot Desk Fellows, Lakshmi Kanchi (SoulReserve), was lucky enough to spend time with our elders.
‘As keepers of knowledge, philosophies, and spirituality, as makers of a life-long career in the arts, the elders are poised to give agency to writers and their voices. They mentor, provide guidance and inspire by their presence. They speak from experience and share their unique perspectives, particularly as writers who have trodden the path and uncovered fulfilling destinies. Each elder took the opportunity and created previously unimagined outcomes for the communities of writers who intersect here [at Centre for Stories],’ says Lakshmi.
This year, we are calling on the community once again to consider donating and help make this program continue for another year in 2023. We will once again enable three creatives over the age of 60 from all backgrounds to participate in a $3000 residency at Centre for Stories. Help us to provide new and improved residencies for elderly artists who deserve the time and respect to continue their practice.
Kaylene Poon said she got a lot out of her time at Centre for Stories:
‘It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to do some work on the Chinese history, particularly in Northbridge. It’s an area I grew up so its nice for me to come back and reconnect with my roots. [Being at the Centre for Stories], I’ve been able to focus on what I need to do. I am working at the Chung Wah Association and there are so many distractions. It’s nice to work at a place I have no other commitments to follow up on. It’s also nice, because of where the Centre for Stories is located, to be able to go to these other places like the National Archives and State Library. Finally, it’s also been lovely meeting the young people here and seeing what they’re doing.’
While she was here, Kaylene worked on developing her walking history tour of the early Chinese living in Northbridge, which she says has become her life mission – to illuminate people on this relatively unheard but important history of Australia’s multicultural identity. She says her time at Centre for Stories allowed her to refine this walking tour, something she hasn’t been able to finish in over two decades.
Meanwhile, Sunil Govinnage used his residency to similarly finish some long-term projects.
‘When I got my residency, I was suffering from writer’s block, a syndrome I think many writers like myself suffer from from time to time,’ says Sunil. ‘During my time here, I finished my second novel, Sunburnt Home, a story about a Sri Lankan family and their efforts to settle down in a new country, from the time of their arrival to the many challenges they have in a new home, in a new culture. I also used the opportunity to finish an old short story collection of mine, based on Perth experiences of over nearly 20 years. I managed to edit that for an Australian publisher. The Centre for Stories is a great place to write, it is very conducive for writing.’
Emerging writers like J Eh Kaw Thaw Saw participating in our Writing Change, Writing Inclusion program also benefitted from the elders-in-residence program, as he was able to receive mentor support and writing feedback from esteemed poet, Dennis Haskell.
‘The elder-in-residence program connected me with Dennis Haskell, a magnificent poet and a genuine soul. Dennis kindly lent his ears and lips to mentor me as a writer. To quote a proverb: “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendour of the old.”
J has since gone on to be selected as an Editing Fellow for international publication Green Leaves, Red Rivers.
Melanie Hobbs, another Writing Change, Writing Inclusion Fellow, remarked that Dennis was kind enough to provide feedback on two of her short stories.
‘One of them I thought was probably too niche,’ she says; ‘something that only other millennials would relate to, but I was chuffed that Dennis enjoyed it. He provided some practical editing tips and lots of encouragement to get my story out there. In my other story, he was able to identify an issue I hadn’t been able to put my finger on and that was the inconsistencies in the narrator’s voice. It was so valuable to be able to get that feedback from him.’
Dennis, meanwhile, says he used his three months at Centre for Stories to work on a multitude of projects, including writing articles on the history of English poetic form and their social context for a conference in Canberra in December; judging a poetry competition for the American Association for Australian and New Zealand Literary Studies; and assessing and editing poetry manuscripts for the book series published by WA Poets Publishing.
With such great success this past year, helping old and young alike, we now call on our community of supporters who believe in the power of art and writing to change lives, to please consider donating to our 2023 fundraising campaign. Help us to support three new elders and many more emerging writers who benefit from their wisdom.
Centre for Stories is an independent non-profit with tax-deductible gift recipient status. All donations over $2 are tax-deductible. Your generous support makes a real difference.
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