On The Table is an interview series with emerging writers from the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship. Here, writers reflect on their Hot Desk experience, the changes to their practice, and the connections they made.Adele Aria writes non-fiction, poetry and short fiction, using story-sharing to explore identity, the politics of existence, and the ways in which we integrate personal and shared histories. Combining lived experiences of complex trauma, disability, and queer identity with postgraduate studies in Human Rights and professional experience, Adele is a writer-activist for human rights, social change, and building the practice of empathy. They have contributed to publications from Singapore and Australia, including anthologies, the Feminist Writers Festival, Westerly, and the forthcoming book Voices from the Darker Side of Development. A person of colour, Adele is grateful to have been welcomed onto and living and writing upon Noongar Boodjar.
Can you tell us about your writing practice?
As a child, writing was simply an integrated aspect of who I was. Unfortunately, I succumbed to narratives around me that being an artist was not acceptable or viable as a grown-up and so I began to put it aside. I continued to find avenues for my artistic expression around the edges of my life and it permeated the way I presented myself, even as I steadfastly honed the ways in which I straddled different cultures of the worlds, industries, and spaces I traversed. I saw the Fellowship opportunity promoted on the same day I was questioning how much I had allowed others’ discomforts and demands for comfort to define my pathway. That day, I applied for the Fellowship and also decided to re-embrace my lifelong passion for writing and cultivate writing with my own voice, and not ‘for the job’ or a marking rubric.
In the time since I commenced the Fellowship, I needed to take a significant break due to surgery and a complicated recovery, as someone living with multiple chronic illnesses. I now write every day and I am still practicing how I foster and express my own voice, even as I commit to amplifying and elevating the voices of others, with particular attention to those who are suppressed, silenced, delegitimised, minimised, or in other ways denied the opportunity to be heard. Sometimes, I write nestled into a small garden I’ve created just at the edge of my bedroom, other times with cats interrupting me or wherever I happen to be. I use poetry and fiction writing to provide myself with restoration and healing from the non-fiction I write which often touches upon traumas faced by others, or embedded in my own history.
Where did you start at the beginning of the Hot Desk Fellowship? What changed in your work and what did the Fellowship allow you to do?
At the beginning, I questioned my own memories of my dream of wanting to be a writer ‘all my life’. I wondered whether this was another wisp of a child’s memory that I had held fondly but had blurred with time and the lens of romanticism. As I wrote more and more, I realised the energy I felt was distinct even to the many other artforms I enjoy. It’s easy to say the phrase ‘I have always been a writer and artist’ but now I am confident in feeling that I never stopped being those things.
Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?
I have gradually given myself permission to forgive the ways in which I quieted my voice, my own experiences and insights, my differences and challenges. By acknowledging my survival needs, it has also allowed me to embrace what I might be able to contribute now the metaphoric pen that is back in my hand.
In the time that you did spend at the Centre for Stories, what was your experience of the culture and physical space? How does hot desking at the Centre compare to hot desking at home?
It was a held space where I knew that I was walking into bright solidarity and supportiveness to be whoever I was. In a country that I have felt has become increasingly hostile in some ways to difference, it was welcoming in those rooms. I also felt assured that anyone I encountered within those walls would share an innate valuation and respect that we were all whoever we needed to be.
What relationships have you developed from your Hot Desk Fellowship and involvement with the Centre for Stories?
I’m pleased I have had the chance to strengthen and deepen some dear friendships through this period. I have also connected with writers, editors, creators, as well as the Centre team. In each case, I have felt very fortunate and look forward to future chances to cross paths with all of them.
Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk Fellowship, where will you take your writing?
I am continuing with two major book projects, but I will continue to submit to literary journals. I have found working with editors to be a hugely educational and fascinating process already. I hope to continue learning and refining my writing and using it to provoke conversation and change. I am completing my Master of Human Rights and am intending to complete a book closely aligned to the research and findings in my thesis.
Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?
I have wanted to build into my creative practice the art of weaving into non-fiction the invitation to be empathetic and a subsequent call to action for change. I have been practicing situating my perspective amongst explorations of issues, cultivating my voice as one that is legitimate. As someone who grew up with explicit and implicit boundaries curtailing who I was as not appropriate to be centred, too different to be allowed, and too non-normative to exist, it has taken a lot to overcome those internalised narratives and allow myself to exist on the page. Watching the anxiety of the bushfires unfold through the screen, I realised the majority of us could only understand it as framed by others. This included how we saw the legitimacy of responses and the casual inclusion and exclusion of some people, with the potential to increase their vulnerability to harm. I was fortunate to work with a team that believed in the importance of the messages and the need to add this to the broader conversation.