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“The best art is political and you ought to be able to make it unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.” - TONI MORRISON

Ten fresh voices speak to power The Citizen Writes Project aims to demonstrate how creative writing and the power of words can influence and inspire, and to create opportunities for inclusion and representation of culturally diverse stories in our society. Supported by City of Sydney’s Matching Grant program, the Citizen Writes Project develops and highlights work by culturally and linguistically diverse writers, and aims to demonstrate how creative writing and the power of words can influence and inspire. The project creates opportunities for emerging writers to develop their craft, celebrates voices that are rarely heard in the mainstream, and encourages cross-fertilisation of ideas, process and media. The ten writers participating in the Citizen Writes project are Annie Zhang, Claire Cao, Coco Huang, Deniz Agraz, Donna Chang, Elizabeth Veronica Mora, Hasitha Adhikariarachchi, Janette Chen, Kalhari Jayaweera and Moreblessing Maturure. They will share excerpts of the pieces they have been developing during a series of writing workshops led by award-winning writer, Dr. Roanna Gonsalves (The Permanent Resident). The organisers of this project acknowledge that our voices are those of immigrants to Australia, beneficiaries of Indigenous dispossession and would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation.


Foreword In every beginning there has always been the word. It is through word and story that we make sense of who we are and how we relate to those around us, to the environment, and to the metaphysical. For millennia, the Gadigal have been weaving ideas into words to create a sense of home, of belonging and of custodianship through story. Sydney has always been a place illuminated by story and the storyteller has always been one who speaks truth to power. It is the championing of storytellers from the margins that is the aim of the Citizen Writes Project. Last year, our call for submissions attracted a flood of fresh voices from underrepresented cultural groups, demonstrating the depth of talent across Sydney and the yearning to give literary expression to lived-experience and the imagination. Ten writers were selected by an independent panel of judges from our most valued literary organisations: Writing NSW, Story Factory, Peril, WestWords, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Asia Pacific Writers & Translators, and Southern Crossing. At the heart of the Citizen Writes project is an effort to focus on the brilliance of the cultural periphery in relation to literary craft. All the applicants to the project were non-Indigenous. As immigrant writers, it was crucial to acknowledge our positions as beneficiaries of Indigenous dispossession, to consider the ethical questions raised by the expression of solidarity, to question the tropes of the ‘grateful migrant’, and to reflect upon the immigrant citizen’s responsibility to critique systems of oppression in a participatory democracy.

The course design for this project included a decolonised syllabus: we embraced the creative and critical works of First Nations writers and writers from formerly colonised communities across the world. We read their work and we learned from their literary virtuosity, as we worked on developing our own writing practice. I had the privilege of working with the ten selected writers over a series of four workshops, held every Saturday afternoon in February this year. Each of these writers has a distinctive way of observing the world, a fresh way of expressing the soaring shapes of their imaginations, an enchanting and provocative literary voice. The Citizen Writes project is a way of sending out their unique work to weave our harbour air and our urban infrastructure, our energizing languages and our varied ethnicities, our peak hour squeeze and our star-struck evenings, into a fresh way of seeing our world. Their work will be on posters throughout the City of Sydney, in the following pages of this booklet, as well as floating through the ether as they read excerpts at the launch. I thank the City of Sydney for their belief in this project, Diversity Arts Australia for their tireless support, Carnival of the Bold and Kevin Bathman for their vision, Sonia Mehrmand for efficient co-ordination, and 107 Projects for their cheerful help. To Annie, Claire, Coco, Deniz, Donna, Elizabeth, Hasitha, Janette, Kalhari and Moreblessing: congratulations! You are the chroniclers of our culture. Your vibrant voices enrich our city and our world. You are helping us reimagine what it means to be a citizen of Sydney, to be an Australian. Go well!

Roanna Gonsalves


MENTOR Roanna Gonsalves is the author of The Permanent Resident (UWAP) published India and South Asia as Sunita De Souza Goes To Sydney (Speaking Tiger). She has a PhD (UNSW) and has been facilitating and teaching creative writing workshops for all ages within communities as well as at schools and in the university sector for many years. She currently sits on the Board of Writing NSW.

TEAM Sonia Mehrmand is passionate about the arts, access, history and advocacy. As a coordinator at Carnival of the Bold and Diversity Arts Australia, she is able to combine all her passions in one place. Her work is always grounded in an understanding of space, place and history.

Kevin Bathman is a designer and curator who is passionate about advancing social change through creativity. He believes that the arts is an untapped avenue for catalysing change and creating long-term social transformation. He is currently pursuing his MA in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, London.

MC Jennifer Wong is a writer and comedian from Sydney. She’s the creator and host of shows such as Comedy vs Racism, Pitch a Classic Today, and Book Club Impro, and has performed at arts and comedy festivals in Australia, Edinburgh, and Shanghai.


Creative writing workshop with Dr Roanna Gonsalves (Photo: Sonia Mehrmand)


Annie XY Zhang

Summer is the cruellest season. The suburb of Panania swelters— but not Bubu. The fan in the dining room whines as it oscillates on the highest setting, and Bubu’s mother flops listlessly into the seat before it, clad in a singlet and shorts. But Bubu wears long pants and a light wool hoodie, despite the mercury reading of thirty degrees. Last night she went to bed with socks on and pulled her duvet right up to her chin. She does not feel summer like her mother, or the rest of Panania, or even Sydney—no. While everyone else complains of being embalmed in cotton and sweat, Bubu feels cold. Annie XY Zhang is a Chinese-Australian writer from southwest Sydney and a 2019 WestWords Emerging Writer Fellow. She won first prize in the Zine West 2018 Writing Competition and the Honi Soit 2017 Writing Competition. Her work has been featured in Pencilled In, ARNA and Sweatshop Women, amongst other publications.


Claire Cao For weeks after the flood, Li Xuan kept spotting residual oddities: yellow leaves splayed against her pillow, a drowned kitten trapped in a toilet cubicle, a mangled bicycle tangled between the branches of an overturned tree. But the strangest occurrence happened on a Sunday, when the Zhao family sent their eldest daughter to speak to the common folk. I am Zhao Ru Lian, the girl announced in the market square, her voice musical. Our family lives on the hill, in the renovated temple. The storm ruined three of the upstairs bedrooms and my Baba will pay anyone willing to help us clean. ‘She’s acting like we don’t all know who she is,’ Li Xuan said,stumbling uphill after Ru Lian with her classmates. ‘Three bedrooms’, mouthed her friend Xing Xing in return, who slept in the same room where his Ma cooked, sold pork buns and prayed. ‘Do you think they have more?’ The cresting excitement in Xing Xing captured what they were all thinking: they were finally going to get a good look. Li Xuan had only stolen glances through the leaves of the tallow trees dotting the hillside, looking for the red granite phoenixes calcified in the act of flight, perched on pavilion gates. For centuries, the grounds had housed a temple to Yan Wang, the god of death, with incense sticks regularly lit by locals for the valley’s many spirits. When the Zhaos came along with their oyster sauce fortune, everyone learnt that even the holy came with a price tag. Rumours gestated in their little peasant houses, the whispering of parents and aunties punctuated by crackles of brazier fire. What kind of people would disembowel floors and shrines that had stood for generations? ‘Heathens’, they hissed, ‘devils’. ‘No, worse than that’, Li Xuan’s mother tutted. ‘Snobs with no face’. Claire Cao is a fiction writer from Western Sydney. Her work has appeared in TLB Review of Books, Voiceworks, Djed Press and Subbed In. She is currently working on a screen project for Co-Curious’ Behind Closed Doors program. She tweets a lot about movies and food @clairexinwen


Coco Huang

The day I send my father to a nursing home, I wake up with a beard again. It has grown so long overnight that the coarse black hairs catch globs of toothpaste speckled with last night’s dinner when I lean over to spit. In the mirror, I see my father’s face in his earlier days, broad-nosed with astute eyes and a forehead wide and auspicious. But where I have a smattering of liver spots, he has shrapnel scars, raised and bulging like bruised veins, one dangerously close to his left eye.

Coco Huang is a Chinese-Australian writer, musician and scientist. She enjoys reading and writing experimental stories, particularly satirical and metafictional ones with a dash of magical realism. Her award-winning short fiction and poetry have most recently appeared in ARNA, Hermes and the 2018 Sydney University Student Anthology. She tweets @cocoxhuang.


Deniz Agraz Two years ago, I cut my left thumb while working as a kitchenhand. Since then, the bleeding has stopped and the wound has healed, but I can’t stop the light from entering me. I was slicing a mountain of red onions that our head chef Darrel used in his signature rocket parmesan salad when I got distracted by Jeff Buckley singing ‘Hallelujah’ on the radio. Trying to listen to a song’s lyrics in a restaurant kitchen with all the sizzling, clattering and cursing happening around you is like trying to make sense of what is on the other side of a dirty window pane. Squinting your eyes might help in such a situation but you can’t squint your ears. I had taken my eyes off the chopping board only for a second to beg the head chef to turn the volume up, when the knife neatly sliced my left thumb in the middle: 4 cm in length, 1.5 cm in depth. Blood gushed out. At that very moment, I thought the red onion must have been misnamed by the English-speaking world because it wasn’t red. It had an imperial purple-coloured skin and a tinge of white flesh, roundly layered, looking a bit like the robed-up Queen Victoria in Barker’s ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’. I had seen the painting with Matt, at the National Portrait Gallery in London the year before, when we went backpacking around Europe. ‘That’s actually the Bible, she is giving to the African prince’ he had said with his arms encircling me. I already knew. I quietly smiled just like I would whenever he lectured me about the Ottomans or Orientalist art. Deniz Agraz was born in Turkey and arrived in Australia as a teenager in the late 90s. She identifies as first generation Turkish/Australian. She teaches English as a second language to adults. Deniz finds that writing fiction is a way for her to negotiate her place in Australian society.


Donna Chang At parties, when I describe what I do, I tell people that erasing memories is like pulling fine colourful threads from a tapestry. If you pull too many, the tableau is ruined. But if you pull only a few threads, you can still ascertain the overall story. The tapestry is simply less vivid. Then the passage of time does the rest of the work in blurring the edges. It’s an elective treatment. Essentially, plastic surgery for the mind. 85% of my patients are newlyweds, who request a ‘polish’ on their memories of their Big Day. Often this means erasing memories of cocaine-fuelled speeches, drunken hot mess grandmas, and ringbearer dogs relieving themselves midway down the aisle. I make the necessary, requested alterations, leaving behind a rosy, ‘perfect’ memory for the couple to hold in their hearts happily-ever-after. My job is to unburden my patients. But I wondered if I could truly have that effect on my mother to whom burdens were badges of honour.

Donna Chang’s professional background is in film and television. Currently, she works as a Development Producer for television company Lingo Pictures. She was formerly a Development Executive at Screen Australia, and Production Executive at Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Films in London.


Elizabeth Veronica Mora It was a Sunday morning and the church choir had found its way into Cecilia’s window, again. Her usual self would have slammed it shut, sealing her ritual with a curse word. Her usual self would have then run down the spiral staircase connecting the tiny rooms of the rickety boarding house before somersaulting through the harmony of singers passing by as they ascended to the cathedral. She would have played the jester among the youngest of them, turning obedient cherubs, angelic gatekeepers of paradise, into the children that they were outside the purview of pious parents. As the laughter erupting from these new-made rebels rose to a crescendo, the perfumed believers would begin to awaken involuntarily from the hypnotic hum of rehearsed hymns. Parents would have turned sharply to hiss at her while pulling their children away with stares of damnation. At this moment, her usual self would have shrugged, slowly backed away and preached to the converted in a voice as high as their noses, ‘He that is without sin cast the first stone’. With her arms still elevated to a reluctant surrender, she would have turned and walked in the opposite direction towards the Tomebamba river, the luscious water mouth notorious for running its tongue around the leisurely repose of non-believers. There she would have unpacked her backpack and sold cigarettes on the Lord’s day. Although the intention was still here, her present self was much less ambitious. Even if she wanted to, her present self couldn’t reach the window of her room. The weight of her swollen womb had nailed her to the ground like a crucified Christ. From here she had watched as the curve of her childbearing stomach moved outward from the sides of her pelvis like a giant flower bud expanding into age. As the petals folded open, denying, in their excitement, the scarcity of space, Cecilia had noticed everything around her become smaller, trivial, insignificant. Elizabeth Veronica Mora is the daughter of two love-struck Ecuadorians. Elizabeth learned, from a young age, to appreciate stories as moments of possibility. Tales of passion, resilience and risks taken valiantly have shaped her worldview and inspired her search for alternative truths. She is currently studying to become a secondary school teacher.


Hasitha Adhikariarachchi On my way home I saw a rainbow lorikeet relishing a red Grevillea flower. The petals, like shredded bell peppers, vanished one by one as the bird enjoyed its feast. This phenomenon is strange to me. I have seen the Pani kurulla, a native sunbird, sucking nectar from Hibiscus flowers in Sri Lanka, but never this. Many plants and trees with the gray-green color of eucalyptus, an oversized full moon, adult services advertised in newspapers, and daylight savings are other fascinating things I witnessed in Australia. I landed in Sydney two years ago via the Skilled Migration program. My classmate Anura, who picked me up from the airport, took me directly to Service NSW to get my Medicare registration done. He didn’t wish to pay a single dollar if I fell sick like my sister Amali. I was jet-lagged and dozing in the queue at the government office. I can’t remember much except the bewilderment of the officer at Service NSW at how to fit my long Sri Lankan name ‘Dhanushka Pubudu Wanniarachchi’ on my Medicare card.

Hasitha Adhikariarachchi, a writer raised in Sri Lanka, now calls Sydney home. Inspired by the futility of everyday sexism and racism, her work includes poetry, monologues, one-act plays and short fiction. She was previously published in Write to Reconcile II anthology in Sri Lanka. She often reads her poetry at poetry slams.


Janette Chen The class was full of chatter when Jenny and I got to first period English. I looked around the room. There were only two seats left at the front of the class. I saw Mr. Hartley’s matching grey hair and grey jumper at the back of the room. He was handing something out. “Janette Chen and Jenny Cheng,” Mr. Hartley said, as we sat down. “Right next to each other.” He gave us each a soft plastic A3 sleeve with our names on them. They were our school photos. A photo of the Rose Garden in front of our brown brick building was on the front cover. I flipped to the double page with our individual photos. The headshots of all the Year Sevens were laid out in rows. Jenny and I were next to each other in roll call but when everyone was put in alphabetical order, we were mixed up with all the Ching, Chang, Chongs in our grade. Ours were the last photos in our rows, with Jenny’s photo underneath mine. We both had our hair tied back. We were both wearing glasses. We were both Chinese. But Jenny looked poised and pretty in her photo. She had a girlish lip-smile closed around a secret. I was beaming like a golden-brown potato, hoping the force of my smile was enough to make up for not knowing the right angle to tilt my head, or how to part my hair to cover up the freckled expanse of my face.

Janette Chen is a Chinese-Australian writer. She studied Writing & Cultural Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Janette is a member of Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement. Her short story ‘Wall of Men’ will appear in the forthcoming anthology Sweatshop Women Volume One.


Kalhari Jayaweera Latha met her white ex when she was twenty-three. It was after she learned to straighten her hair, but before she started waxing her arms. They met in a Viennese-themed coffee house in the QVB, gold-leaf and Klimt paintings crowding in on her. He was early. She ordered some raisin toast, which arrived semi-burned. She knew him, of course, from university – Admin Law, he said to her, I remember you were in the back row – but they’d never spoken until he emailed her a week ago. She shredded up her crusts one by one as he talked, about uni and their new jobs (he, a law firm; she, a slightly less prestigious law firm). What was he doing here? Didn’t he know he could get a white girl, or a hot Asian girl? Almost mid coffee gulp Latha excused herself and found the bathroom, joining a line of greying ladies. She could see her face in the mirror opposite, her eyes wide and eyebrows up. That’s how I looked out there, she thought. She looked away.

Kalhari Jayaweera is a writer of Sri Lankan heritage who lives in Sydney. She writes short fiction and memoir and has previously been published in Scum Mag. She tweets (mostly lurks) at @KalhariJ.


Moreblessing Maturure It happens twice a year. Twice a year I lower the volume as my car chortles further towards the manicured White suburban land strips of my childhood, responding to an urgently typed WhatsApp message from Mum adorned with more emojis than necessary: Tomorrow, come over đ&#x;?Ą đ&#x;?Ą — we need your strong arms Knowing upper body strength doesn’t align with my lifestyle, she still calls, and I still answer. Though she’ll never admit it, these roadside cleanups are about as premium as garbage gets. It’s the type of trash that’s bought, full price at Victoria’s Basement, items that don’t fit the new decor brief from the interior designer. This bi-annual purge is how my studio apartment manages to rake in the compliments it does. These select cul-de-sacs are where my perfectly functioning NutriBullet came from, where I sourced the piece that sits on my coffee table. These well-lit, you-only-live-here-if-you-drive, streets are where I learnt that pieces are what rich folks call those obsolete ceramic bowls with no practical function other than to hold dead batteries, coins and emergency tubes of shea butter. As I encircle another redundant roundabout, the glimmer of white goods creeps over the horizon. Before you start judging me, let’s be honest with each other and accept that you wish you’d thought of it first. And for that, I don’t blame you. It’s a harsh truth to accept that your first share house didn’t have to be furnished with up-cycled milk crates; that no matter how cute the Pinterest board, packing pallets do NOT make for sound lumbar support.

Moreblessing Maturure is a Zimbabwean/Australian inter-disciplinary artist, TEDx speaker and founder of FOLK Magazine. Her work across literature, stage and screen includes engagements with Playwriting Australia and Sydney Theatre Company. She is currently developing new works across these platforms. Moreblessing is an advocate for diversity in the arts and a proud member of MEAA’s Equity Diversity Committee.


Citizen Writes Project (Photo: Sonia Mehrmand)


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Citizen Writes  

The Citizen Writes Project aims to demonstrate how creative writing and the power of words can influence and inspire, and to create opportun...

Citizen Writes  

The Citizen Writes Project aims to demonstrate how creative writing and the power of words can influence and inspire, and to create opportun...

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