Subscriberthon 2012: Juliana Qian on writing that provokes and delights

I’ve been a subscriber of Overland for about three years now and a sporadic reader in libraries for a few more. My English and Shanghainese poem ‘Tong Xing’ was included in Audio Overland in August and my essay ‘The Name and the Face’ appeared in issue 208.

I describe Overland to strangers as a ‘left-leaning literary journal’. What I love best about Overland is its commitment. It makes the publication unique in a landscape where the media’s usual interpretation of neutrality is hideously conservative. Debates on anthropogenic climate change still argue over its existence and successful refugee policy is measured in terms of deterrence, not protection.

Overland starts somewhere else. And then moves forward with a refreshing direction. It encourages those conversations the left so desperately needs to have, that keep getting sidelined or postponed in response to another event, another catastrophe. It challenges the idea that the ideological and aesthetic must be in competition with writing that provokes and delights. It also supports and promotes new writers and thinkers, not only in the journal but also through prizes, competitions, anthologies and events.

I say writers and thinkers because while several literary journals publish emerging writers of fiction and poetry, political analysis and opinion is largely the domain of professionals – journalists, academics, lobbyists and policymakers. It’s important to me that Overland is open to unashamedly political content from the institutionally unaffiliated and non-professionally opinionated, and open to creative and varied approaches to political thought and writing.  I have a great deal of love for the personal essay as a form and I often find sparkling examples in Overland which make my feminist heart dance for the way they bring together the personal and the political. Living and thinking. Too often theory is divorced from lived experience, and too often marginalised people are invited to share their stories as illustration for someone else’s opinion.

Earlier this year, Overland published my personal essay ‘The Name and the Face’ as part of the CAL-Connections project. It was a reflection on language loss, racialisation and the myth of cultural authenticity from my perspective as a ‘1.5 generation’ Chinese-Australian. The essay developed out of a brief piece I read earlier in the year at POC THE MIC, an anti-racist performance night organised by and for people of colour in Melbourne, and open for anyone to attend. In a lot of ways I felt the essay wasn’t particularly radical, because all I really demand is to be able to tell my own story about myself. On the other hand, it’s radical, still, to even call white people white in this country, to say that this ‘is not a white country and never has been’. It’s radical, still, for immigrants of colour to talk about this country from any perspective other than sycophantic gratitude, because our citizenship is always considered conditional.

As we move through what the government has deemed ‘the Asian Century’, and most of the national print media approaches the cultural and economic issues with the assumption that capitalist growth is the value, and acceptability to white Australians is the test, I hope Overland can again start the conversation somewhere else. I look forward to Overland continuing to provide a unique and vital platform for new voices and diverse writing from thinkers who vary wildly in class, profession, culture, age, gender, ethnicity and every other descriptor, but who share a commitment to social and economic justice.

Subscribe, donate and spread the word so that can happen.

Jinghua Qian

Jinghua Qian is a writer, critic and commentator often found thinking about race, resistance, art, desire, queerness and the Chinese diaspora. Born in Shanghai, Jinghua now lives and works in Melbourne on the land of the Kulin nations., @qianjinghua.

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