Western Sydney, says the lead character in Felicity Castagna’s novel The Incredible Here and Now, is a place where “those who don’t know any better drive through the neighbourhood and lock their car doors”.
The Writing & Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University and the Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement which is housed in the Centre, believe this perception has to be challenged. Culture, after all, is shaped by the stories a society tells itself.
“Western Sydney is the face of modern Australia,” says Centre Director Anthony Uhlmann. “It reflects the diversity and richness of contemporary Australia.” In 2007, the Centre, then led by Ivor Indyk, founded a group to connect young writers in the region and develop locally generated representations of Western Sydney. For the first time, the voices of Western Sydney are being written into the Australian literary opus.
As part of the process, four writers, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Felicity Castagna, Luke Carman, and Fiona Wright, were given scholarships to complete doctorates in creative writing. They were guided by WSU academics, developing their writing and critical thinking skills and produced major works of literature representing Western Sydney that have gone on to win major Australian literary prizes (see box).
This project ultimately developed into Sweatshop, led by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, and a Crown Packer Foundation funded project called ‘Creating Writing in Western Sydney’, involving all of the writers.
Sweatshop’s program has engaged with local schools to mentor budding writers. So far, it has yielded 10 anthologies and nine full-length works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, published by Giramondo Publishing (also housed in the Centre) and Sweatshop.
Uhlmann suggests that a new Western Sydney literature movement is forming. “The idea of a ‘movement’ in literature points to something significant, involving a number of writers. This is what we have in this case.”
Need to know
- WSU researchers have facilitated the birth of a new literary movement
- For the first time, the voices of western Sydney have been represented in Australian literature
The works supported by the program have won six major national literary awards and been shortlisted for many more:
- NSW Premier’s New Writing Prize (An Elegant Young Man by Luke Carman)
- Nita B Kibble Award for Women’s Life-Writing (Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright)
- Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist Award (twice) (The Tribe by Michael Mohammed Ahmad and An Elegant Young Man by Luke Carman)
- Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction (The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna)
- Queensland literary non-fiction award (Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright)
Meet the Academic | Professor Anthony Uhlmann
Anthony Uhlmann has been Director of the Writing and Society Research Centre since 2012. He is the author of two monographs on Samuel Beckett: Beckett and Poststructuralism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). He also co-edited Arnold Geulincx's Ethics with Samuel Beckett's Notes (Leiden: Brill, 2006) and Beckett in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). He was the editor of the Journal of Beckett Studies from 2007 until 2013. His work focuses on the exchanges that take place between literature and philosophy and the way in which literature itself is a kind of thinking about the world. His most recent book is Thinking in LIterature: Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov(New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011). He co-founded the Australian University Heads of English in 2012 and was elected President of this body in 2013. He is currently working on two projects: one on the fiction of J. M. Coetzee and a second on Spinoza's influence on literary history and the importance of his philosophy to understandings of artistic practice.
Higher Degree Research at Western
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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.