OF LANGUAGE & IDENTITY
What does it mean to be able to express yourself, the idea of owning an identity and the ability to navigate these profound questions? Language is an important characteristic of expression; whether it be visually, physically or through the means of literary expression. We find Kalhari Jayaweera answers these intriguing questions in terms of her own experiences. Kalhari pursues a career in writing and we comprehend her abilities to be one of rhetoric eloquence. She endeavours a calling in expressing her identity and passion in literary pieces that question and deliberate societal stigma and the alliances that stem from it, identifying herself an individual who utilizes these differences to discern the meaning of it all.
Kalhari Jayaweera is a Sri Lankan-Australian writer who lives in Sydney. She writes memoir and short fiction, and has previously been published in Scum Mag and also a contributor on Kill Your Darlings. She's one of the ten writers selected for The Citizen Writes project. In conversation with Kalhari we confer on her literary aptitude and capacity to navigate between her diaspora identity and inspirations from these cultures.
Q| Kindly share with us your journey with writing and literature
A| Writing is something I couldn’t escape. As a child, I was always reading, and wrote a lot of stories that were heavily plagiarized from whatever I was reading – I’m pretty sure that at one stage I named my characters Julian, Dick and Anne after Enid Blyton’s Famous Five! At university I tried to get serious, studied medicine, worked as a doctor. Then I took a writing course and realised that the need to write had never really gone away. In the end, I had to give in to it.
Q| How do you gather inspiration to writing short fiction?
A| Generally I find that inspiration stems from something I’ve thought about for a long time and can’t let go. It might just be a sentence that someone said, or an occasion that left me with a peculiar feeling. Then I try to work through how my character would respond to it.
Q| What is your writing process in crafting memoirs? Tell us about some of your works.
A| My writing process for memoir is pretty similar to writing fiction – my pieces tend to focus on a day, or a moment that was unusual. For example, I wrote a piece in an Australian literary magazine that was based on a day I experienced with postnatal depression. Another piece was a pop culture piece about, of all things, Tom Holland’s Lip Sync Battle! Like many people who saw it on TV, I was obsessed with it for weeks, and wanted to drill down into what that was about. It ended up being a piece about the constraints placed on womanhood by society and culture.
Q| As a diasporic writer, how do you navigate between both your identities as both Sri Lankan and Australian in your writing? Does this dual identity influence your writing process or subject matters discussed, or even style of writing?
A| This is probably what all my writing is about, because I think about it all the time. As a diaspora kid who has never had the opportunity to live in Sri Lanka, it’s often the case that I’ve ended up feeling either not Sri Lankan enough or not Australian enough. As I’ve grown older I’ve started to accept that there’s no ‘right’ way to be either. It definitely influences my subject matter – I choose to deliberately write from this perspective because of the lack of these types of English language narratives.
Q| Tell us about the Citizen Writes project and its impact upon your writing? Has it changed your approach in any sense?
A| The Citizen Writes project had a huge impact on my writing. First of all, it was the moment where I started to take myself seriously as a writer. In our first meeting, we were gathered around the table and Roanna said to us, “You are all writers.” Until then, if I talked about my writing I’d be a bit selfdeprecating and say it was “just a bit of fun” even though I was secretly quite serious about it. Citizen Writes gave me permission to call myself a writer and to carve out time for myself to write. I also met an amazing group of women. We’ve kept in touch, and regularly meet to discuss our work.
The other vital thing Citizen Writes gave to me was a sense of history – the idea that, as writers of colour who write in English, we stand in a long line of writers who came before us. Although I’d read writers of colour regularly, I hadn’t thought about the literary canon in that way. In other writing workshops we rarely studied non-white writers. At Citizen Writes, I was introduced to a wide range of writers of colour and Indigenous writers, and started to think about my place in the line of these strong, thoughtful people who preceded me.
The dual identities of Kalhari’s life is one we find intriguing in its capacity to capture her true persona and the practice of its translation on paper and literature. One isn’t simply a personification of a single culture and their expression a result of a particular history. Her inspirations are derivations of cells manifested from an amalgamation of these cultures and their histories. We find her ability to derive from and understand her ancestry in her works is admirable. Kalhari’s experience translates into her literary pieces with culture and these works retain her voice to influence the descendants of the same. We discover her voice to be magnanimous in its capacity to showcase her ideologies and contemplations as the reader discerns her intentions.