Reading as resilience, reading as reaching out
Hi! I'm Shastra, State Library of Queensland's inaugural reader in residence. I'm a writer, reader, and PhD candidate at The University of Queensland, where I'm trying to create poetic nuclear waste warnings that will withstand deep time. Since the middle of January, I've been roaming State Library's collections, reading Queensland Literary Awards winners and finalists, and writing poetry inspired by these works. This is my very last day as Reader in Residence at State Library—I wish it didn’t have to end.
In this time of pandemic and precarity, it’s difficult to speak about how safe and at peace I’ve felt while reading and writing at State Library and its surrounds. State Library is a community space, and with the help of its community I managed to read 19 books over the last ten weeks: 18 Queensland Literary Award winners and finalists, and one black&write! Fellowship publication.
I also got a crash course in Wikipedia editing from Queensland Memory’s Jacinta Sutton, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of State Library’s repository (where over 42 kilometres worth of collections are housed) with Access Assistant Heidi Stevens, and a day with Senior Conservator Rachel Spano from Preservation Services learning about the work that goes into caring for these collections. Above all, I’m going to miss my quiet afternoons in the Red Box, reading with the river for company.
The winner and finalists of the 2019 Griffith University Young Adult Book Award were unabashedly my favourite reads—I’ve already mentioned how much Lenny’s Book of Everything moved me. Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, with its taut and clever mix of prose and verse, was also a highlight, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.
Helena Fox’s How It Feels to Float was the first book I’ve read that adequately and accurately represented my own experiences of mental illness and asexuality. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to read it as an adult, and am absolutely stoked that young adult readers have access to more diverse and own voices novels now than I did at that age. To see works like these recognised by literary awards is heartening and utterly necessary.
I don’t want to end my residency on the sad and stressful note of illness and societal uncertainty. Instead, I thought I’d share the ways in which I’m integrating State Library into this period of spatial (not social!) distancing.
Create your own collection
Got some family memorabilia that needs extra love? Check out these videos from Preservation Services on how to recover, care for, and maintain your own collection at home. I’m personally excited to digitise some photographs and workbooks my family and I found while cleaning out our garage.
Who knows—maybe your family history could contribute to State Library’s collections.
State Library has a range of eresources available, from ebooks, databases, online training, and even movies. I made the excellent mistake of browsing Kanopy—a free streaming service offered by public libraries that features films, documentaries, and children’s shows—while writing this post and ended up watching two documentaries on Fukushima… yikes! I’m planning to sign up for a few free online training courses on Lynda.com to fill in my weekends.
State Library’s ebook collection is also formidable. I recommend Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork—2019 winner of the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection—and Omar Sakr’s The Lost Arabs—2019 finalist for the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection. If you’re keen for more poetry, try Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, one of my favourite poetry collections of all time.
The 2020 Queensland Literary Awards are now open! If you’re an unpublished or emerging writer with a book in the works, you may be interested in these two unpublished manuscripts awards.
The Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer is open to Queensland writers for an unpublished manuscript. Melanie Myers won the award in 2018 for her debut novel, Meet Me at Lennon’s; 2019 winner Rhiannon Ratcliffe Wilde’s book will be released later this year.
The David Unaipon Award for an Emerging Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Writer is open to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writers from anywhere in Australia for an unpublished manuscript. Past winners include Kirstie Parker, Lisa Fuller, Paul Collis, Ellen van Neerven, Tara June Winch, and Samuel Wagan Watson.
Enter these prizes for a chance at $15,000 and publication with University of Queensland Press.
I’m looking forward to reading the winners and finalists of the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards, though this time it will be from my own residence.
Part of what makes this pandemic so difficult is that we must isolate instead of banding together. But the beauty of technology—of radios, telephones, and digital spaces—is that we don’t have to be lonely. Now is the time to be sharing stories.
In moments of hardship and chaos, I’m often reminded of Richard Siken’s editor’s pages for Black Telephone. I can’t think of better lines to end on than his:
If the dead are watching, I want them to see us writing, dancing, singing, painting. I want them to see that we still reach out to each other.
Shastra Deo is a writer, reader, and PhD candidate at The University of Queensland. Her poetry collection, The Agonist (UQP 2017), won the 2016 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the 2018 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. You can stay in touch with her on Twitter.