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USYD at Sydney Writers' Festival: Roanna Gonsalves on Literature as Selfie



26 May 2017

The Sydney University-funded Curiosity Stage hosted Gonsalves as she took her audience on a journey through her experiences as a migrant woman of colour living in Australia
The Sydney University-funded Curiosity Stage hosted Gonsalves as she took her audience on a journey through her experiences as a migrant woman of colour living in Australia

As Roanna Gonsalves takes the stage, she lifts her phone over her head, drops her shoulders and tilts her body, and then she tells the audience to smile as she snaps a photo. In many situations, this may have been a very unusual thing to do. However, in a discussion titled Literature as Selfie, this globally-renowned, chorographical movement was not only expected, but celebrated by the audience that was captured in the self-taken image that she created.

The Sydney University-funded Curiosity Stage hosted Gonsalves as she took her audience on a journey through her experiences as a migrant woman of colour living in Australia, and discussed how her contribution to the contemporary Australian literature landscape could be seen as a portrait of herself: a literary selfie.

Gonsalves maintains a consistent thread throughout her discussion of why we should include minority voices in the Australian literary landscape, claiming that the ‘selfie culture’ perpetuated by what is commonly known as narcissistic teenage impulse, in in fact an urge analogous to what Australian migrants feel: “a need to be recognised, a need to be memorialised and a need to take control of your own identity.” This thread tied together both the literary and aesthetic elements of her discussion, as she helped the audience to realise how exactly writing might function similarly to a selfie: a “self-enacting-self.”

Listening to Gonsalves speak about her experience in writing The Permanent Resident, and in crafting her own image as an author and Australian woman, was a singularly spectacular experience, as it allowed a platform for a woman of colour to share her perspective of how accessible our literary culture really is. Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the conclusion that both Gonsalves and the audience reached together was that it was an inexcusably inaccessible field. However, loathe to leave the conversation on a gloomy note, Gonsalves offered numerous options to the mainly white crowd that had gathered to see her.

“We have the ability to champion those who have not been heard before. Many of us say that there are too many voiceless people - they are not voiceless. They have the ability to speak, and oftentimes what they have to say - and are saying - is greater than what we hear from the collective voice. It is not that these people cannot speak, but more that they have not had access to an opportunity to let their voices be heard.”

Gonsalves’ The Permanent Resident is a gesture of presentism; it’s a shout into the void to let readers and writers, those with their minds open to new perspectives, know that she is here, and she is not voiceless. We practice presentism every day: in our tweets, in our conversations, and even in our selfies. Roanna Gonsalves embodies this sense of presentism beautifully in her novel, and in the discussion that she led at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Eden Faithfull is a Sydney Writers' Festival Media Hub intern and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Sydney.