We Are Here: Stories of Home, Place and Belonging is a fresh collection of writings by people who have experienced homelessness. Published by Melbourne’s Affirm Press, it will be in bookshops on 29 October 2019.
This exciting project showcases the talents of 38 new, emerging and experienced writers. Themed around “PLACE”, and featuring full-colour images and artworks, this is a powerful collection that illuminates, challenges, and re-imagines our place in the world.
Uncovering a wealth of unsung talent, We Are Here also features new work by critically acclaimed and award-winning writers, including Krissy Kneen, Behrouz Boochani, Claire G. Coleman, Josiane Behmoiras, Gregory P. Smith, Jon Bauer and Thuy On, with a foreword by celebrated novelist and short story writer Tony Birch. Thanks to a 2019 City of Melbourne Arts Grant, all the writers are being paid. The book is being edited by novelist, journalist and homelessness researcher Meg Mundell (The Trespassers, 2019; Black Glass, 2011).
Drawn from real-life experiences, the writing is original, sharply observed and honest. From the Wurundjeri people’s traditional fishing grounds to the humid hell of Manus Island; from gentrifying Saint Kilda to the tough streets of Bangkok; from dodgy boarding houses to remote cattle stations; from dingy back laneways to exclusive art galleries – We Are Here offers fresh insights into how we experience, imagine and understand place.
By turns heart-rending and humorous, gritty and erudite, these tales offer glimpses into emotional landscapes both unique and shared. Expect a book that will surprise, delight, and challenge; an object of beauty that honours the stories within; a thought-provoking selection of memoir and poetry on a topic that connects us all.
PLACE is the book’s unifying theme. Around half of the pieces touch on personal experiences of homelessness; the rest explore place in all its multifaceted richness, delving into themes of belonging, memory, home, childhood, hope, loss, community, and city life. Contributors were not required to publicly reveal their past or present living circumstances.
Place = meaningful location. Places are where our lives happen, where our memories are made, where our relationships form – and where they are tested. Places shape who we are, and who we become.
>How is “homelessness” defined?
In Australia, “homelessness” covers a range of experiences: living in a caravan park, rooming house, refuge, crisis accommodation, or transitional housing; squatting, couch-surfing with friends or relatives, sleeping rough or in a vehicle, or living in other precarious, overcrowded, or temporary forms of shelter.
Experiences of homelessness vary widely, but common threads include poverty, inability to access the rental market, and a mix of other structural, socioeconomic, and/or personal barriers to being safely housed. The biggest contributing factor to Australian’s fast-growing homelessness crisis is a chronic national shortage of affordable housing.
> Who’s funding the project?
The project was made possible thanks to a 2019 City of Melbourne Arts Grant, which provided funding to pay all the writers for their work. Affirm Press is generously covering the costs of producing and distributing a handsomely designed full-colour book. The entire CoM grant is being used to pay contributing writers and visual artists, and to fund two public events – a book launch, and a public reading. Any profits from book sales will be donated to the project’s four key non-profit partner organisations, and used to fund creative programs for people who have experienced homelessness.
>How did the project originate?
The book originates from an ongoing research project and a series of creative writing workshops, run in 2019 and funded by Deakin University and StreetSmart Australia. Workshop writers were recruited in partnership with the wonderful staff at Launch Housing, Roomers magazine, (Elwood St Kilda Neighbourhood Learning Centre), The Big Issue Australia, Unison Housing, and the Peer Education and Support Program (PESP) at Council to Homeless Persons. All the writers have some connection to Melbourne.
>What inspired the project?
Place is a common thread connecting us all: places are where our lives unfold, where our memories are made, where our relationships form – and are tested. Places are emotionally loaded, and rich with stories. We yearn for lost places, retreat to safe havens, venture into uncharted territory. Places shape who we are, and who we become.
But how do people who have lived without a secure home understand place? How does homelessness shape the places and people you encounter, and the way you think about belonging, home, and community? How does being “out of place” – without a home – affect how you experience the world?
Australia has a large shadow population of people for whom homelessness is a daily reality. Numbering around 116,000 nationally, they’re a diverse group: daughters and mothers, nephews and grandfathers; older women, tertiary students, Indigenous Australians and immigrants; people who’ve worked hard, raised families, lived full lives. Yet while they share our common humanity, “the homeless” are often stereotyped, vilified, dismissed, or blamed. They are spoken for, and spoken about; their voices seldom heard, their creativity often ignored.
We Are Here sets out to change that. This exciting collection is the first book-length work to showcase writings by this diverse and overlooked group of Australians.
>Who’s running the project?
The We Are Here project is run by Melbourne-based novelist, journalist, and academic Meg Mundell (author of The Trespassers, UQP, August 2019; and Black Glass, Scribe, 2011). A former deputy editor of The Big Issue Australia, Meg is currently a research fellow in writing and literature at Deakin University. To stay up to date with the project, and for details of the launch event and public readings, follow Meg on Twitter: @MegMundell
Scrolling image credits (all from Unsplash.com)
- Train window: Usamah Khan
- Wet street with reflected lights: Joshua K. Jackson
- Compass on white background: Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz
- Tree with love-heart graffiti: Glenn Carstens Peters
- Suitcases: Erwan Hesry
- Hands holding compass & map: Daniil Silantev
- Tattooed arm: Don Ross III
- Map of Australia with pins: John Tyson