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From Language Barriers to Literary Triumph: A Poet's Journey to Winning the PM's Literary Award

  • Culture
  • Friday, 17 November 2023 21:16

"Gavin Yuan Gao's Remarkable Journey: From Language Barriers to Winning the PM's Literary Award"

In a remarkable tale of resilience and artistic triumph, Gavin Yuan Gao faced the daunting challenge of navigating high school in Brisbane without knowing a word of English at the age of 14. Hailing from Beijing, this emotional journey has now come full circle, as Gao's debut poetry collection, "At the Altar of Touch," clinches the prestigious Prime Minister's Literary Award.

The awards ceremony, held at the National Library in Canberra and presented by arts minister Tony Burke, bestowed Gao with a tax-free prize of $80,000, marking a pinnacle in their literary career. The recognition comes in the wake of other notable winners, including Jessica Au for "Cold Enough for Snow" in fiction, Sam Vincent for "My Father and Other Animals" in non-fiction, Shannyn Palmer for "Unmaking Angas Downs" in Australian history, Sarah Winifred Searle for "The Greatest Thing" in young-adult literature, and Jasmine Seymour for "Open Your Heart to Country" in children's literature. The diverse range of winners was celebrated by the judges as a testament to the richness of the Australian literary landscape.

Gao's poems, described as lyrical, personal, expressive, and moving, delve into a myriad of subjects, from queer identity and the loss of their mother to dyslexia, Chinese culture, day and night, and love. Currently pursuing a master's in creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin, Gao returned to Australia on Thursday morning, bringing with them a wealth of creative experiences and a passion for the written word.

Reflecting on their artistic journey, Gao shared, "I started writing when I was very young, and I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to writing. I had that idea from a very early age, but the kind of educational system in China wasn't conducive to that kind of creativity." Gao's early immersion in ancient Chinese poetry laid the foundation for their poetic expression, and it was the cadence of older English poetry that captivated them and inspired their foray into the English language. "I started memorising ancient Chinese poems from a very early age, hundreds of them, but what really drew me to English was older English poetry; there is a kind of cadence to it that reminds me of the rhythm that I heard as a child from ancient Chinese poetry. I think I've been trying to replicate that."

As Gao continues to pursue their passion and education, their story serves as a testament to the power of language, resilience, and the universal nature of artistic expression.

"Jessica Au: A Literary Voice Against Adversity and Ambiguity"

Jessica Au's poetry transcends the boundaries of language, delving into the raw and painful experiences of abuse with racial slurs during the Covid era, navigating racism, and enduring bullying due to her sexuality. These poignant themes are woven into the fabric of her work, shedding light on the challenges faced by individuals dealing with discrimination and prejudice.

Au's personal journey is marked by the stark contrast between her experiences in Australia and her native China. Despite her roots, the poet found herself subjected to racial slurs during the height of the Covid pandemic, reflecting the harsh realities of discrimination in an unexpected setting. In a twist of irony, Au reflects on her time in an evangelical Christian school in Australia, describing it as a "fundamentalist environment" where she experienced more "brainwashing" than in her homeland. The poet's words serve as a powerful commentary on the complexities of identity and the unexpected challenges faced in diverse cultural contexts.

The depth of Au's literary exploration extends beyond personal adversity. Her acclaimed novella, "Cold Enough for Snow," earned her the prestigious $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature at the beginning of the year. The novella unfolds a narrative of a woman's journey to Japan with her mother, marking their first adult travel together. Au's writing is characterized by pristine prose, offering a stark contrast to the ambiguity inherent in the stories narrated by the mother. This delicate balance between clarity and complexity adds layers to Au's storytelling, captivating readers with a nuanced and evocative narrative.

As Jessica Au emerges as a prominent literary voice, her work serves not only as a mirror reflecting societal challenges but also as a testament to the resilience and strength found in artistic expression. In a world grappling with diversity and adversity, Au's poetry stands as a beacon, inviting readers to confront uncomfortable truths and embrace the power of storytelling to foster understanding and empathy.

In the poetic tapestry woven by Jessica Au, adversity becomes a canvas for profound expression, and ambiguity finds resonance in the clarity of her prose. Through her verses, Au confronts the painful realities of racial slurs during the tumultuous era of Covid, the enduring struggle against racism, and the hardships stemming from societal prejudice towards her sexuality.

Au's journey takes an unexpected turn as she reflects on her time in an evangelical Christian school in Australia, describing it as a "fundamentalist environment" that subjected her to more "brainwashing" than she experienced in her native China. This irony serves as a poignant reminder of the complex interplay between identity, cultural context, and the unexpected challenges that shape an individual's narrative.

Beyond the verses, Au's literary prowess shines in her novella, "Cold Enough for Snow," a recipient of the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature. This narrative unfolds a mother-daughter journey to Japan, where the pristine prose contrasts with the ambiguity of the stories shared. Au's ability to navigate the delicate balance between clarity and complexity adds a layer of richness to her storytelling, captivating readers with a nuanced and evocative narrative.

As Jessica Au emerges as a luminary in the literary landscape, her work not only mirrors societal challenges but also stands as a testament to the resilience found in artistic expression. In a world grappling with diversity and adversity, Au's poetry serves as a beacon, inviting readers to confront uncomfortable truths and embrace the transformative power of storytelling to foster understanding and empathy. Through her words, Jessica Au calls us to contemplate, empathize, and find strength in the shared human experience.