16 November 2017

Meet the 2017 Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist – Amaryllis Gacioppo

In the lead up to announcing The 2017 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers, we’re introducing you to every name and face on the shortlist. These are some of the brightest nonfiction minds in the country and they’re all aged 30 and under. Read their profiles on the Express Media blog to learn more about their writing journeys, love of nonfiction and their tips and tricks to writing the best real-life stories.

Amaryllis Gacioppo, 27, Victoria

A Partial Palermo Street Directory

How did you begin writing?

Reading has been an essential part of my life for as long as I can remember, and the act of writing as expression always just seemed like a natural extension of that.

Why do you write nonfiction?

Up until a few years ago, I had only written short fiction and poetry. However, I had been interested in the sense of ‘play’ offered by the essay since reading Joan Retallack’s book The Poethical Wager during my undergraduate degree. When I first had the idea for this project, I realized that the structural freedom and explorative nature of the nonfiction essay meant that it was going to be the most suitable form to work with. It’s been both a thrilling and terrifying endeavor.

Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize…

A Partial Palermo Street Directory follows a series of walks that I took over the course of a year in my mother’s home city of Palermo in Sicily. I wanted to explore my relationship to this city that I’ve been visiting since I was a child and that has been a significant site of my family history. It’s part of a collection of essays that interrogate concepts of homeland and cultural nostalgia by following my walks through the Italian cities of my maternal heritage.

Why did you choose to write on this subject?

I first had the idea for this project when I was in Palermo in 2013. It was my first trip back as an adult, and I realized how much the city had been mythologized in my own mind. I’m fascinated by our relationships to place and how the places that we both inhabit and imagine form us. I had this great sense that the past – my history – was on the precipice of being lost by my own hand. So I wanted to investigate not only my family history through these cities, but also I wanted to figure out what cultural heritage means as a second-generation Australian, and how to have a living relationship with my inherited culture.

I guess I’m lucky in that Palermo lends itself to being written about – it’s such a unique and brazen city that I could probably go on and write another ten essays about it.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

My PhD supervisor Ali Alizadeh is always telling me that whenever I’m uncertain about a piece of writing I should ask myself: is it honest? And let that be the measure for its quality.

There’s also this brilliant NYPL conversation that Maggie Nelson did with Wayne Koestenbaum, in which she likens writing to clarifying, which really stuck with me.

So I’ve taken those two qualities of honesty and clarity as sort of lodestars for my writing process.