19 October 2015
Spotlight On Scribe: Yamiko Marama
For the next two weeks, we’re bringing you daily Q&A’s from our Scribe Nonfiction Prize Long-listed writers. Read on for more information on their work, writing journeys, and all their tips, tricks and advice for budding young non-fic creators.
Yamiko is a twenty something, half African/half Australian (and no, not Japanese) female who currently works as an Occupational Therapist in youth mental health where she often empowers others to develop their own story lines in light of personal adversities. Her spare time is spent as a coffee snob (she lives in Melbourne, after all),spending time with her girlfriend by the beach stalking cute puppies, and awkwardly cancelling social activities so that she can stay at home and read. This is her first attempt at promoting and sharing her writing.
How old are you?
What state or territory do you live in?
How did you begin writing?
I’ve always been writing, from a young age. I have some very embarrassing teen diaries that are full of ranting, that I am very careful to hide. It’s always been a way to help me process my thoughts and emotions. It’s still the case for me now.
Why do you write non-fiction?
This is the first time that I’ve tried writing about myself (in a space where I’ve planned to share it). I have to be honest that I’m not used to thinking of myself as a genuine topic. That’s an exciting thing for me.
Tell us a bit about your longlisted scribe submission.
My father was born in Africa and his family were refugees; he had a very interesting but challenging early life, whereas my mother had a very stable early life living in Melbourne and Sydney, but then she independently moved to Africa where she lived for several years- she’s an amazing female role model in regards to gender roles. Both my parents have lived very varied experiences; I like to think I am a mixture of both my parents, and this story is very much about my family’s history, but also my own personal understanding of who I am, in light of them but also separately as an individual.
Why did you choose to write on this topic as a young writer?
I guess the older you become the more you process your own life experience and realise that you might actually have a story to tell. It’s a pretty empowering thing. It’s nice to be able to speak to being someone that hasn’t always fit into neat boxes within our society, and be able to be proud, and speak openly, about that.
How long have you been working on your submission, or where in your development was your piece prior to entering the scribe prize?
I started writing this story as I had planned to go on a three month backpacking holiday through Africa in July 2015 to visit my extended family and my fathers ‘birth place. This was a trip I had been thinking about doing for several years, and while I was born in Tanzania I had not been back to Africa in about fifteen years. I guess this started me thinking more thoroughly of my own family history. I had planned to write a blog about my trip, however it got postponed as my father had a stroke about a month before I was set to go. I was jotting down thoughts and reflections throughout the aftermath of my father’s stroke, often when I was sitting by myself in my father’s hospital room when he was asleep (especially when I had too long to think), entries which are worked throughout this story. I think it was around this time that I became aware of the competition, so I started putting all these different story lines together, as I felt all of them were pivotal in writing a story that represented me. Once I’d finished this story and entered it into the competition, I hadn’t re- read it again until I’d been notified that I was a longlist candidate. When I re- read the story again, I actually became really emotional reliving what it was like for me during that time. I guess this story is one that sits very close to my heart. I think I would like to write a book about this all one day, although a part of me feels as if I am still only part way through the story line of my own life, that there is more to come, such as returning to Africa as I had planned. Perhaps though, it always feels that way though when you are writing about yourself.
How important is Australia to you and your writing?
It’s a big part of it, because it’s a big part of me, of course. I’m very proud to be Australian, which is why I think it’s important to point out the things that are often ignored within society, as I believe all of us (including me) can be more sensitive to the needs of others, that we owe it to each other as an Australian community. I don’t see myself as having been disadvantaged, but I do think there are pockets within Australian society that are extremely disenfranchised and that it’s important that we have voices (from within those communities) that are able to represent these often faceless people. I have been very accepted by the majority of Australian society, but I am passionate about talking about the challenges related to being female, being from another cultural background, and being queer. I’m also very aware that I do not necessarily represent these groups either, that I can only verbalise my own experiences. Working in mental health I am aware of some of the challenges that many young people face, the amazing resilience of people, but that not everyone gets to tell their story or have a voice, and that’s a shame.
What’s the best and worst piece of advice that you’ve received about your writing?
To be honest until recently I hadn’t often shared my writing, or been that motivated to write. I recently had a six month seclusion in Perth which reignited my love for writing and since then its burst spectacularly. The worst advice has probably, honestly been from my parents, who initially discouraged me to post my writings, I think for fear that it would open me up to scrutiny. The best has been my girlfriend, who’s often simply said “why not?” which has given me a certain confidence to just give things, such as this writing competition, a go.
What is your favourite or most influential work of nonfiction that you’ve read? How has it affected your writing?
I really identified with Barrack Obama’s writings/autobiography “dreams of my father: a story of race and inheritance”, myself being half black, half white, and the confusion that comes with that in trying to define who you are, and perhaps the journey of working back through your families histories in attempts to understand yourself better. I really identified with his anxieties about journeying back to Kenya, as I had felt very much the same way myself, not knowing how I should be feeling or what to expect, which is something I also touch on in my story. I was impressed with his beliefs and optimism that you could make a difference to other people’s lives, and felt energised upon finishing his novel. I really valued his foreword; that he looks back on this writing and cringes at his use of words, feeling how much he has developed in his language and wisdom since then; but also in his pride at his youthful optimism, that it captures his life during that time.
Can you share a piece of your published nonfiction work that you’re particularly proud of?
“But in holding otherness like a gift, you must also develop a toughness or thick skin, developing a ‘fuck you’ approach in order to survive a world that might easily tear you apart, and has closely succeeded several times before. My father has always understood that. His nightmare brought me back home after my temporary journey away, returned me home for good. When I got the news Perth rained teardrops on my plane window in honour of you dad, I hope you know.”