Aus-Asia award takes writer to India

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Roanna Gonsalves will research emerging English literature in India. SHERYL DIXIT reports

Writer Roanna Gonsalves has been selected as one of 20 Australian postgraduate students to receive a 2013 Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award. The only writer among an impressive list of scientists, lawyers, finance and medical experts, the scholarship will enable Roanna to spend nine months in India, researching and studying existing and emerging trends in writing in English across its urban landscape. The award was presented in early December at Canberra, by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Roanna is undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Her research examines the institutional arrangements, social networks and power relations that constitute the field of literary production, using English language literary culture in India as a case study.

“In recent years there has been a never-before-seen flowering of grassroots English language literary culture in India,” said Roanna. “As a writer and a researcher I am curious about this literary change in the social fabric of urban India.”

She will mainly concentrate on English literature in the fiction genre, over short stories, novels and some poetry, across mediums like forums, writing groups and even online.

“It has been a long and difficult journey, writing thousands and thousands of words, many words, many failures and a long period of learning before I could make my mark as a writer in Australia,” said Roanna emphatically. “That’s why this award is so meaningful to me, because after a long and thorough application process that was reviewed in-depth, I was selected. I was very excited on hearing the news, I could barely believe it!”

And while the award means an upheaval of her life here in Australia to move back to India with her family, Roanna is confidently upbeat about this latest adventure.

“I feel very blessed to receive this award,” she said. “It’s exciting and challenging to find how writers are created in India. Since my past two visits I’ve realized that there’s a growing breed of talented writers telling their stories in a variety of genres, and tapping into this pool, meeting them and studying their work is going to be a revelation”.

And the award couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. “The subject of my PhD is about globalized literary field writing using Indian writing in English as a case study,” explained Roanna. “This trip will help me garner essential information for my thesis, that will provide a greater understanding of the emerging Indian literary scene.”

For the comfort of her young family, Roanna hopes to be based in Goa, but she will extensively travel around India to attend literary festivals, forums, book fairs and launches. She will conduct in-depth interviews at various locations across India, and participant observation at various literary events. She will spend the last two months of her trip in an internship at Sangam House, a prestigious writers’ residency near Bangalore.

And then it will be back to Australia to describe her experiences.

But that’s not all this writer has on her plate. She is putting finishing touches to a novel of short stories based on the experiences of Indian-Australians here, and is currently writing a play for Bell Shakespeare, based on the Bard’s Merchant of Venice.

“As Indians living in Australia, it is important for us to tell our stories, which add to the fabric of this multicultural land. Writers, artists, musicians – we are the storytellers of our culture, and our chronicles are a record of our experiences,” said Roanna, who won the Australian Writers Guild Award in 2011.

But the writer is most proud of her latest work, telling her story of the experience of moving and living in Australia through a chapter in the recently released book Joyful Strains. Roanna describes the chapter as one of “fun, sadness, joy and challenges.”

It’s an honour for an Indian-Australian to win such a prestigious award, and as Roanna embarks on a new journey, we wish her all the best.

The Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Awards provide scholarships for the best and brightest university students from Australia and Asia. Besides the 20 postgrad students of whom five are going to India, 20 undergrad students are also travelling to various parts of Asia, and 20 students from Asian countries will come into Australia, including two from India. The awards aim to develop internationally-aware, skilled future leaders and to establish enduring education and professional linkages between Australia and Asia.

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