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Research Statement for Steven Amsterdam's Essay ‘There and Here'

posted on 30.09.2021, 06:14 by Steven Amsterdam

Background: In an essay about being an expatriate, critic James Wood reflects on his own experience as well as that of the protagonist of Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn, noting that a migrant becomes a stranger in two places at once. In both cases he is talking about a voluntary migrant, one who may still visit or even return “home”. Thirty percent of Australians were born overseas and maintain varying degrees of such split identities. For most of 2020 though, Covid-19 and governmental responses to it around the world abruptly ended the possibility of any return visits. This removal of a long-standing privilege forced this population into contemplation of the distance between homes. ‘There and Here’ does not address an existing gap as much as it writes into this new moment, drawing on the experience of the expatriate author and that of other Australians.

Contribution: This essay is composed from texts generated for a work of hybrid memoir. Their arrangement here is critical to a personal and nuanced discussion. The multiple viewpoints and connections in the essay convey varying perspectives on the expatriate existence but then, rather than arrive at James Wood’s assumption of strangers in perpetually strange lands, the arc of the work builds these many aspects of long-distance existence toward a sense of emotional unity.

Significance: ‘There and Here’ won The Horne Prize for 2020. This prestigious prize is named for Donald Horne and given to works that “shed light on a significant aspect of contemporary Australian life.” It is also Australia’s richest award for essay writing. ‘There and Here’ was selected by a jury panel of celebrated Australian authors – Anna Krien, Nam Le and Tara June Winch. Previous winners include Kerryn Goldsworthy.