Writers On Writing / Creating luminous reading experiences with Roanna Gonsalves

Award-winning writer Roanna Gonsalves let us know how to write captivating short stories ahead of her course, Writing Short Stories at Writing NSW, starting on Tuesday 24 March.

What do you think the role of the writer is today?

As the American poet Muriel Rukeyser said, ‘The universe is made of stories, not atoms.’ Our labour as writers, as storytellers, is so crucial now, more than ever, because we need to reimagine possibilities for our world and for ourselves. We also need to reimagine the past, the stories that have been erased. We need to make meaning afresh out of the ‘rag and bone’ conditions we are negotiating together on our fragile planet. 

Can you name some authors who inspire you in the way they ‘rewild’ the short story?

I love the work of Kuzhali Manickavel, Lydia Davis, Carmen Maria Machado, and Alice Munro, among many others, because of the way they play with the form of the short story, making meaning and creating coherence not through a heavy reliance on plot but by kneading other elements through a story to make it an enchanting and luminous experience for us as readers. In my upcoming course, we will discuss ways in which stories are held together and see if we can find new ‘glue’ to create coherence on the page.

You’ve described admiring writers who are ‘cheeky,’ ‘brave,’ and ‘playful.’ What is the role of humour when writing about challenging topics?

The Booker Prize-winning author Paul Beatty once noted, ‘Humor is vengeance’. As I wrote on the Southerly Blog a few years ago, I understand the liberatory potential of laughter implicit in Beatty’s words. When you laugh at something you no longer have a fear of it. It’s a way of getting back at something that oppresses you. Humour can also be seen as sweet vengeance upon the expectation of a cloying earnestness in literature. It is a political act. It is a resistance to being locked-in by the navel-gazing, identity-crisis-ridden narrative that oscillates between cultural cringe and cultural explication that is often expected of literature about the experience of being part of a minority group. Ultimately, I think humour is vengeance at its best when focussed on the self. These are some of the things we will be talking about in my upcoming course, focussed on writing short stories, thinking through some of the building blocks of short stories, what makes them leap off the page in a way that is enchanting to the reader.

Roanna Gonsalves (PhD, UNSW) is the author of The Permanent Resident (UWAP), published in India as Sunita De Souza Goes To Sydney (Speaking Tiger). The book won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Multicultural Prize 2018 and was longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award. Her four-part radio documentary series, On the Tip of a Billion Tongues (ABC RN Earshot) is a socio-political portrayal of contemporary India through its multilingual writers. She has received the Prime Minister’s Australia-Asia Endeavour Award, an Australian Writers’ Guild Award, the UNSW Copyright Agency Writing Residency, a Bundanon Writing Residency, and The Bridge Awards’ inaugural Varuna – Cove Park Scotland Writing Residency 2019.

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