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.
Tinashe Jakwa is a Zimbabwean-born African-Australian writer and researcher based on Noongar Boodjar. Tinashe is a PhD Candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia. Recently, she was a Visiting Scholar (January-June 2019) with the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Institute and Department of Political Sciences. Her research examines the causes of peacebuilding policy failures in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a focus on deconstructing state theory. She is a political and security risk analyst who has written extensively on geopolitical developments on the African continent.
Tinashe’s writing has appeared in anthologies published by Margaret River Press and Ethos Books Singapore. She has spoken at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. A writer of both creative non-fiction and fiction, Tinashe can be found straddling the fine line between the imagined and the actual.
Can you tell us about your writing practice?
Since childhood, writing has always been a form of sense-making for me. I write in order to ask questions of myself and the world and, through that, to glean answers, or rather, to reach a place where I better understand my orientation towards a range of subjects, issues, experiences, and puzzles. Writing is a clarifying act, albeit one that often raises more questions, questions which then push me to write some more. It is a cycle. To put it simply, I write when I am puzzled. It is less cathartic and more of an imperative. As for the how, I just write, I do not plan. However, in writing I like to play with language, to manipulate it as much I can, including the form it takes on a page. I do not like to bound by the convention, that would be a betrayal to the very practice of writing and to sense-making itself. This is particularly important to me as a bilingual writer who, more often than not, expresses herself and makes sense of the world through the lens of a colonial language. It becomes important to work in the interstices of beauty and horror in making that language, English, do what I want it to do. And such a stubborn language it is! And so, this is what I expect of myself, to make something beautiful out of the horrors of coloniality.
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?
When I started the Hot Desk Fellowship, I was starting a new project, a short story collection that engages with the theme of displacement beyond a singular negative lens. The stories that form the collection range in subjects from trying to understand the nature of colonial encounters, from the perspective of two continents (Africa and Europe), to understanding parents’ sense of displacement as a result of their children leaving home, to an interracial marriage that cannot escape the trappings of history. Through the Fellowship, I learnt to vary my approach to writing. Instead of my usual stream of consciousness approach, I learnt to complement that with planning out my narratives. I still prefer stream of consciousness as a method; however, I can appreciate the value of planning. In this sense, the Fellowship really allowed me to hone my strengths while learning from other writers who were also completing the Fellowship. Those relationships and how they informed my writing practice will prove to be invaluable now and into the future.
Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?
At the conclusion of the Fellowship, I was much more appreciative of the supportive and community-oriented nature of the Perth literary community. I finished the Fellowship resolute in wanting to be more deeply involved with our community, which I had not been in the past. It was important to recognise that writing does not have to be a solitary practice. The Fellowship really highlighted this to me, not only due to the fact that there would always be other writers present as I was writing, but the presence of the Centre for Stories team was always central to this strong feeling of community I experienced and continue to experience in aftermath of the Fellowship. This is what changed for me, the realisation that writing does not have to be a solitary practice. There is community, there is support, and there are friends to walk with us on this journey.
How does the Centre for Stories compare to your workplace, social space, and so on?
Whenever I go to the Centre for Stories, I always feel like I am going home. The Centre definitely fits well in the multiplicity that is my homes. Here, there is an abundance of love and passion and commitment to nurturing a strong sense of community and belonging for anyone who walks through the Centre’s doors. There is a lot to be learnt from the Centre in this regard, both as a workplace, social space, and community pillar.
We ran a series of workshops around reading, editing, and publishing. How did you find these workshops and how will you apply what you learned?
Sadly, I was unable to attend the workshops that Robbie ran due to competing commitments. However, he was kind enough to sit with me on numerous occasions to impart advice about, for example, publishing. As a writer who is deeply engaged with African literature, it was important for me to come to the realisation that as an African-Australian writer, I do not have to be bound by territorial boundaries and borders in determining which literary spaces and conversations I participate in and how. This realisation was quite freeing and I have Robbie to thank for his considered and invaluable advice.
As part of the Inclusion Matters Project, we took five Hot Desk Fellows to Melbourne for the Digital Writers’ Festival. Can you tell us of your experience?
Melbourne is an interesting city to visit as a writer from Perth. The differences in pace that characterise the two cities definitely filter into the attitudes of people in both cities, I feel. With Perth being a city that is content with its stillness and Melbourne being a city that fights against its underlying stillness, one gets the sense that Melbourne lacks as strong a sense of community the likes of which Perth is fortunate enough to have – the need to appear busy and like. Having said that, it was great to get the opportunity to engage with Melbourne-based artists and writers and to broaden networks by engaging with creatives from the East Coast of the country. Some very interesting and inspiring work is being created that side and it was important to have caught glimpses of that work. The highlight for me was definitely the event myself and other Perth writers performed in, Ghosts of the Digital Age, where we got to share a stage with local Melbourne artists and make strong connections from which future collaborations may stem.
Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk Fellowship, where will you take your writing?
Having completed the fellowship, I will continue to finalise my short story collection. I have submitted some of the stories from the collection to various magazines, journals, and prizes. One of the stories, Nothing But the Queen’s English, was recently shortlisted for the 2019 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing, which I am very grateful for. I am also currently working with Julian Hobba, the Executive Director of The Blue Room Theatre to adapt another short story from the collection, Stillbirth, into a play as part of a formal mentorship program with the Centre for Stories. My future plans, therefore, revolve around completing this short story collection, pursuing publication, as well as adapting Stillbirth for the stage. I will, of course, continue writing other works outside of these main projects. However, as I also have a PhD to finish, I must be take care to balance my studies with my creative pursuits!
Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?
A Body Stands in Unison, an excerpt from which has been published on the Centre’s website, is a story that seeks to make sense of the tensions that animated the colonial encounter(s) between Africa and Europe. It personifies the two continents and seeks to draw out, without necessarily resolving or wishing away some of these tensions.