Anika Donnison: What are you currently reading and why? What drew your attention to it?
Jess Nyanda: Recently I’ve been reading Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin. My mentor Jo lent it to me, its such beautiful work from the Narungga writer. We usually start our sessions by reading a few passages, it’s a really lovely, healing way to ground ourselves before getting into it.
But currently I’m emotionally preparing myself to read Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. I’ve been a huge fan of Japanese Breakfast (the band) for a quite a while, and the bassist in my band lent me a copy. We’re both Asian-Australians and I ALWAYS get teary whenever I hear a story about liminal cultural identity/not belonging in either country/reconciling with and celebrating the space. So, I probably need to pump myself up before diving into a Korean-American memoir about grief.
AD: When you’re not writing what do you do?
JN: I really love sport, I play netball every Wednesday night (our team is called the Tina Net Turners, or TNT for short), used to play community soccer for local legends Vic Park Victory (miss those folks a lot) and I get irrationally mad when I watch the footy (especially when my Eagles are playing).
And some months back I really got into skateboarding and managed to learn how to drop in, but I haven’t skated in AGES. Probably have to relearn it all over again, which is okay.
AD: What is a book that changed your life?
JN: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. It was the first time I felt some sort of shape to the weird and lonely intergenerational pain that comes with being a migrant kid. Especially, a migrant kid that wanted to follow something as elusive and uncertain as art making for a career.
And The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall because I’m a cliché gay.
AD: Why do you write and does music play a role in it?
JN: I usually avoid writing until I’m on the verge of exploding emotionally, but I’m trying to write daily to create a healthier practice so I can maybe dodge the deluge. Music plays a HUGE part in what I do, it’s kind of my safe space and my go to medium.
AD: What inspired you to join the program?
JN: Feels a bit silly and simple but I just wanted to get better at writing. I’ve spent so long leaning and almost hiding behind music, all the while wanting my words to stand alone. I joined to gain skills and confidence, and to share my work and have it critiqued. Yeah, just want to get better really.
AD: What are the unexpected things that have come up in the early stages of your mentorship and how have you navigated it?
JN: I found myself avoiding the work I had to do at home, and spending way too much time on my phone/making myself overly busy as a means to distract. It’s a weird self-sabotage thing, but when you give yourself time and finally sit down to do your edits/read the readings (I make the mentorship sound like hard work, it’s really not; working with Jo has been a goddamn delight!) you feel SO much better for it. You feel more like yourself, more present in your body. Can almost compare the feeling to going on a gentle walk to look at some cute waterbirds.
AD: How has having another person working on your piece shape your own style so far?
JN: Jo’s been great at getting the drafts to unlock themselves. I think I get too stuck in the original shape of things, and then I get distracted with a new idea and forget that you need to play around with the work a bit. And that it’s fun to just flip an idea completely on its head, sometimes the core of it might just fall out and expose itself if you turn it upside down/chop it up/write it as a big chunky prose poem.
I also have a habit of structuring poems as lyrics and tying each one too neatly into a little pop-song package. Having another voice reading the work/give ideas on restructuring has been so helpful, and really fun.
AD: When you began you mentioned that you wanted to develop a book of prose that explored why you are addicted to self-destructive fame, running away from identity and trauma and navigating your future when you are lost. How has this developed so far?
JN: Oh, I’m still hooked on the idea of being rich and famous. But the reality is, I’m too old for the music industry to hit the big time [laughs], and I definitely know the reason behind the addiction; I place almost all my worth as a person on how much I create, which is VERY unhealthy. Can’t place all the blame on my shoulders though, there’s a weird time pressure for mid-career creators or anyone starting out after the age of twenty-six to have already carved their place in their creative spaces. As well as the added migrant weight of proving yourself to your family who have sacrificed so much for you to be here. So, all in all its developing [laughs], haven’t had any huge realisations but that I need to be kinder to myself and slow down a little.
AD: Best writing advice you could give or that you have received OR walk us through an ‘aha’ moment you’ve had so far in the program?
JN: Writing takes time. I’m always in such a hurry to keep making new things that I forget that good work sometimes slowly reveals itself. Like the first idea is such a rush, it feels almost like a little high chasing it down and wrestling it into a finished product. But, there’s a beauty and a sense of nourishment in giving time to a thing, walking beside it letting it grow at its own pace.
AD: Who is your dream collaborator?
AD: What are you working on in the program? Or briefly describe a piece of writing that you are working on during your mentorship that you are particularly excited about?
JN: One of the pieces I submitted titled ‘BOEING’, it goes through the plane ride my mum and I were on from the Philippines and arriving in Perth for the first time. Its evolution has been really organic, can’t wait to see how it reads for other people. And if they don’t like it, it has a lot of heart and I like it. That’s all that really matters.
Anika Donnison studied Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University. She has appeared in GROK and COZE. She currently works as a Social Media Coordinator for Pegasus Professional Accounting.
Jess Nyanda is a writer and musician writing songs for her solo project, Jess Jocelyn. Currently she’s involved with Yawn Vibes and META IV and she’s branching into sound design and composition and makes theatre with a company she founded called Squid Vicious. Jess makes coffee for a living, plays netball, and is a West Coast Eagles fan.
Writing Change, Writing Inclusion is Centre for Stories’ signature writing program for 2021 to 2023. Generously funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts and Centre for Stories Founders Circle, this writing program features mentoring, hot desk, and publication opportunities for emerging writers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and/or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.