Denmark writer’s asylum piece earns her a fellowship at prestigious writer’s centre in new competition

Shannon SmithAlbany Advertiser
Denmark based author Renee Pettit-Schipp who will receive a two week residency at the prestigious Varuna National Writer’s Centre in the Blue Mountains.
Camera IconDenmark based author Renee Pettit-Schipp who will receive a two week residency at the prestigious Varuna National Writer’s Centre in the Blue Mountains. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

Denmark’s Renee Pettit-Schipp has received a big boost to her blossoming writing career, announced as the first winner of the new Denmark Arts Varuna Writer’s Fellowship.

Sixteen writers from the Great Southern submitted entries for the inaugural year of the competition, which aims to give the region’s writers an opportunity to grow.

The fellowship — the first to be offered in regional WA — gives one writer a prestigious residency at the Varuna National Writer’s Centre in the Blue Mountains, NSW.

Ms Pettis-Schipp said the news had immediately inspired her to do more of what she loves.

As a literature teacher at UWA Albany, as well as literacy support worker at Golden Hill Steiner School in Denmark, she said the fellowship would give her a chance to focus on her writing.

“I finished a 100,000-word manuscript in January and then started teaching again,” she said.

“With two new jobs I literally stopped writing.

“I needed a clearly defined space to help me get the work ready to send to publishers, but also the inspiration of being around other writers. But sometimes you need this simply to remember you are one.”

Her winning piece was titled The Archipelago of Us, a 100,000-word piece of creative non-fiction written as part of a PhD at Curtin University.

It traces my journey back to Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands where I lived from 2011-2014 teaching asylum seekers and the Cocos Malay,” she said.

“Teaching asylum seekers on Christmas Island fundamentally changed my life and the way I saw my country.

“Witnessing the pointless suffering of asylum seeker children, their families, as well as the young men in my care, really rattled my fundamental beliefs about our nation.

“The work explores this tension as well as incorporating my conversations with other islanders about the way they saw themselves and understood their identity as a place that both is, and is not, Australia.”

Ms Pettis-Schipp said she wanted to get the piece as close as she could to a final draft during her time at Varuna before sending it to prospective publishers.

Denmark Arts artistic director Vivienne Robertson said the first competition was very successful and they plan to run it annually.

“The residency is a fantastic opportunity for writers to fully immerse in their work in a supportive professional environment,” she said.

“In addition, receiving a Varuna residency is a mark of achievement in the writing world.

“We are delighted to be offering this opportunity for a writer from the Great Southern.”

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