An immersive writing residency in the Philippines left students and staff better informed and less blinkered by cultural backgrounds.
Three students – all emerging writers from RMIT’s School of Media and Communication – joined established writers for the fourth Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) residency.
As a program of reciprocal cultural exchange and immersion, WrICE is dedicated to writers strengthening networks between Australia and the Asia-Pacific, with previous events held in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.
“The writing process of the residency is about stepping out into the unknown,” Rendle-Short said.
“For the participants, arriving in a new place and meeting new people is not unlike facing up to the blank page.”
Students ahd the chance to participate alongside Australian writer fellows Christos Tsiolkas and Ellen Van Neerven, documentarian John Hughes (Australia), and writers Daryll Delgado (the Philippines), Norman Erikson (Indonesia), Nhã Thuyên (Vietnam), Martin Villanueva (the Philippines) and Steven Winduo (Papua New Guinea).
Susie Thatcher and Jennifer Porter in the Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing were chosen for the January trip after submitting a folio of writing with a statement of what they hoped to get out of the experience.
The residency began in the UNESCO Heritage-listed town of Vigan, where writers were given time and space each day to work on a project of their choosing before coming together for a daily workshop.
“Any feelings of apprehension I had around sharing my work were quickly replaced by an eagerness to make the most of the opportunity and this roundtable of incredible minds,” Thatcher said.
Porter described the workshopping process as getting the chance to hold and buff fresh-cut gems that might one day become the crown jewels.
“Workshopping alongside established and emerging writers was particularly useful to get insights about work habits, and the practicalities of being a career writer,” Porter said.
“As writers, language is our toolbox.
“To be able to examine syntax and meaning, nuance, from multiple cultural perspectives allowed me to step back and see it in a whole different light, to use it in new ways.”
Else Fitzgerald, a student in the Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) said working with more established writers was a fantastic experience.
“We crossed the borders of space – of genres – launching ourselves into what others were writing,” Fitzgerald said.
“I felt humbled by being given such access, to be inside everyone’s works at an early stage.
“The feedback I got from the group about my project was so constructive and considered and has really provoked me to think critically about the work, particularly in relation to voice and structure."
Thatcher said the residency as a whole was a reminder to invite the world in; not shut it out.
“I came away understanding that although the act of writing will always be a solitary process, being a writer involves soaking up as much of your environment as possible – every street you walk down, every person you meet, every conversation you have – these things have the potential to enrich you and your work,” she said.
The Vigan experience was followed by a series of public events and workshops in Manila at the Ayala Museum and the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
The second chapter of WrICE 2017 will take place in Melbourne in August, with events scheduled as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival.
Story: Wendy Little and Susan Thatcher