Culture and heritage

Yamiko’s unique story wins major award

A woman with braids

Writer, therapist and food truck owner Yamiko Marama has been named the overall winner of the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards for her story, Thirty-Six Hours a Year.

The judges described the story as a compelling personal essay about the time Yamiko spends in a hairdressing salon, illustrating a range of characters and drawing on literary traditions of women of colour globally.

The Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards were established to encourage emerging writers to share their stories and to celebrate Melbourne’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature.

This year there were five categories. As the overall winner, Yamiko received $10,000 to further her writing journey. She is currently writing a memoir about growing up as a queer black woman in Melbourne.

We asked Yamiko to share with us a little about her creative practice, and her top tips for aspiring writers.

How has your diverse career contributed to your writing practice?

I think there’s a lot in the world to be curious about, the problem seems to be having time to do it all. I’m a writer, a therapist and a food truck owner – I like moving between these different worlds as I feel they inform my world view in very different ways.

I think I’ve learnt a lot in my career as a therapist – I’ve predominantly worked in youth mental health but about a year ago stepped out of direct clinical care into a training role. I think there’s a lot of similarity between being a therapist and a writer though – being curious, being observant, and trying to understand people (or your characters), what drives them and what they need.

How have your experiences of identity influenced your purpose as a writer?

I think all the aspects of my identity shape my worldview and my writing voice. I can’t separate my queerness from my blackness, nor my gender from either of those things. They are a lot of me, although not all of me – but I think they give me a unique perspective to share.

Growing up, I often felt that my experiences were not represented by the Australian media. It means I’ve learnt to question the stories that get told, and often wonder what’s being left out as a consequence. I have at times throughout my life also felt like an outsider, which has enhanced my ability to observe others. That’s (in part) what my story Thirty- Six Hours A Year is about.

‘I think it’s important to celebrate the unique perspectives that you bring as a writer, while making sure you surround yourself with people who continue to challenge your thinking and worldview.’

I think it also highlights some of the problems with our media and power structures in Australia – we all lose when those who have a voice are often representing one particular experience.

What does it mean to you to win the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards?

It’s meant a lot! Particularly when you are writing a memoir – it’s so personal that it can be heavy work sometimes. I have a lot of respect for people who publish novels because it is a real act of love. Having shared some of my work, and having judges who you respect who engage with it in such a way, it can be really validating and motivating to continue writing.

The prize allows me the privilege, space and time to focus on my writing. COVID-19 has also helped me to rethink my priorities, so I’ll likely donate some of the prize money.

Would you like to share any other thoughts about the awards?

Just a massive thanks to City of Melbourne for the opportunity. I’ve spent a large chunk of time using Melbourne’s public libraries, drinking Melbourne coffee, and engaging in Melbourne’s festival and arts. Despite everything that is going on at the moment with the pandemic, Melbourne is such a fantastic community.

‘I love living in and reading about Melbourne and I’m so glad that we’re a UNESCO City of Literature.’

So, a shout out to all the creatives and artists within our community who enrich Melbourne’s culture. As well as the frontline workers (of all kinds) who are keeping us safe and keeping life functioning.

Yamiko’s eight top tips for aspiring writers

  1. Deep-dive into writing by following writers on Instagram and Twitter and reading widely, from YA to journalism, memoir and fiction
  2. Keep at it, even when you experience rejections
  3. Set time aside to write and stay focused – a whole day works for me, but find your groove – and be okay with letting some things go in your life to do that
  4. Live your life outside of writing, because you need to experience life to be able to write about it
  5. Learn from other writers and take opportunities for learning – attend workshops, listen to writing podcasts, attend writing events and read the work of other writers
  6. Apply for grants, fellowships and mentorships if you can – my fellowship with The Wheeler Centre and my mentorship with Sisonke Msimang were life-changing
  7. Have people in your life who can give you feedback, which also means knowing when to take it gracefully (still a work in progress for me) versus knowing when to trust your gut
  8. Know that it’s okay not to feel motivated or inspired, especially during this time of COVID-19 – I’m constantly reminding myself of this, and sometimes it’s about knowing when to let go, or start small

Find out more

To learn more about the awards, and read the winning entries, visit Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards.

Do you love words and stories? Even during COVID-19 restrictions, you can enjoy free access to e-books, audiobooks, music, films, online courses, virtual conversation clubs and storytimes (for children and adults) using your City of Melbourne library membership. To find out more and sign up online, visit Libraries.

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