Uni project sparks novel reflections on Indigenous heritage
[supplied by UQ]
A short story for a University of Queensland project that evolved into the draft of a novel has helped secure Indigenous Arts student Sharlene Allsopp a prestigious literary prize.
Her work on the novel The Great Undoing – in parallel with smaller projects including a memoir about her great-grandfather – earned her a Wheeler Centre Next Chapter 2020 award.
The Great Undoing explores definitions of belonging – who’s in, who’s out and who decides.
“I’m obsessed with the way that blood and language are used as weapons against the marginalised,” Ms Allsopp said.
“Somehow race and accent are used as measurements of belonging.”
The award provides $15,000 funding and mentoring opportunities, allowing the writer to connect with peers, potential publishers and future readers.
“The Next Chapter award is a significant milestone in my writing career; it’s more than conceivable that towards the end of 2021 I will have a finished novel and hopefully have been offered a publishing deal,” she said.
“I’m incredibly proud that the four Next Chapter judges – all magnificent Australian authors – have read a 12,000-word excerpt of my novel and loved it.”
Ms Allsopp juggles her passion for writing and her third-year UQ studies alongside her roles as a wife and mother of four children (two still at home).
She’s also a co-founder and volunteer for Open Haven, a charity for domestic violence survivors, and an occasional tutor for UQ’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (ATSIS) Unit.
She was published in the 2019 Jacaranda journal and in Aniko Press’ 2020 inaugural magazine – Unsung – with the origin of a memoir about her great grandfather, who served in World War 1.
In addition, she earned an honorarium and additional mentoring support through the Emerging Writers’ Festival At Home Residencies program, a program she said focussed her writing on the memoir.
“I discovered my great grandfather’s war record online,” Ms Allsopp said.
“I didn’t know that he was a soldier and many of the details were a revelation to my close family.
“He was a Bundjalung man, and at that time enlistment for Indigenous men was unlawful.
“That discovery led me on a search for answers that I may not ever find.
“I cannot know why he enlisted for a nation that had no regard for his interests.
“Pursuing his story has resulted in the idea for a memoir that weaves our stories together, to expose the lies that Australia tells about us; lies that I grew up believing, that have shaken me to the core, that still inform our nation today.
“It’s a challenging task to capture with words the weight held within a human’s story.
“I love that challenge because the journey is incredibly rewarding, and, for me, bringing visibility to my family stories writes us into an archive that erased us for so long.”
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