Current Postgraduates

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Sophia Barnes

Thesis title:  The Second Life: Mourning and Memory in Post-Soviet Russia

Sophia Barnes is an Australian writer and editor. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Sydney and is currently completing a Doctorate in Creative Arts with the Writing and Society Research Centre. Sophia's writing has appeared in literary journals and edited collections in Australia, the US and UK. She writes regularly for the Sydney Review of Books and has published short fiction in Kill Your Darlings, Seizure Online, Wet Ink Magazine, Inktears and the collection Stories of Sydney. She is co-editor with Mark Byron of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge’s The Blue Spill: A Manuscript Critical Edition (Bloomsbury).

Sophia's DCA thesis project comprises a novel-length work of fiction, The Second Life, and a critical component. The novel, set between Sydney in 1954 and St Petersburg, Russia in 1999, deals with the intergenerational experience of post-war immigration. The critical component is a narrative essay exploring contemporary Russian historical memory of the World War II in the context of Soviet state terror. A dual study of physical and literary memorialisation, it takes as its two main foci the memorial at the mass-grave site of Sandarmokh in the Republic of Karelia and the multivocal memory-text of Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets.

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Margaret Beasley

Thesis title: Depth, Distance and Dr Dark

Dr Margo Beasley is an historian and writer who has had a long career as a consultant in public history which included conducting oral history projects and writing several commissioned histories, of which the best known is her history of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia. She also established the City of Sydney’s long-running oral history program. She has a Masters degree in Applied History from the University of Technology Sydney, and was awarded a PhD from the University of Wollongong for her thesis Sarah Dawes and the Coal Lumpers: Absence and Presence on the Sydney waterfront 1900-1917.

Margo’s thesis project is a creative historically based biography of Dr Eric Payton Dark (1889-1987). Dark was a decorated WWI hero, physician, leading rock climber, writer on medical, social and political issues, activist in the Australian Labor Party and in peace and civil liberties movements, and a focus of interest for Australian security forces because of his association with people and causes of the Australian Communist Party. He was also married to the celebrated Australian novelist Eleanor Dark for more than sixty years, all of which they spent in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The purpose of this project is two-fold: to both retrieve the life of a significant Australian political and cultural figure, and to examine its more subterranean and abstract themes. These include the role of music, poetry and philosophy in his belief system; the effects of exposure to the brutality of warfare; the impact of life-long grief; the importance of sexual longing and romance in relationship forming; and ideas about courage. One theme in particular will constitute the creative component of this biography, Dark’s lifelong relationship with the Australian landscape - roaming, canoeing, rock climbing and strenuous bushwalking. These activities began when he was a late nineteenth century boy in rural Mittagong and continued throughout his life into old age. They are described in various third person accounts but because Dark didn’t voice the meaning they had for him, and because of the hierarchical importance usually given to such topics as war service and political activity, their importance, activities to which he devoted many thousands of hours in a very long life, has not yet been analysed. In this the project will depart from positivist fact-based biography to speculate about non-material significance in the life of an avowed atheist and humanist.

Amanda Cooper

Thesis title:  Rhys, Spark and Carter: Intersections of Comedy, Gender and Feminism in Twentieth-century Women’s Fiction

Amanda Cooper is a PhD candidate. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at Western, graduating with distinction and earning a Dean's Medal for Academic Excellence (2015). Her Master of Research project, also completed at Western, focused on feminist literary comedy in Muriel Spark’s novel, Robinson (1958). Amanda’s PhD project expands on her Master’s research to investigate feminist literary comedy in twentieth-century women’s writing. Amanda was recognised for leadership excellence in her role as student convenor of Emerge 2020, the 12th annual Humanities and Communication Arts postgraduate conference. Amanda also served on the board of the Australasian Humour Studies Network and acted as Book Review Editor for The Humour Studies Digest between 2021 and 2022.

Amanda’s thesis investigates the different ways in which comedy and humour are used as strategies of feminist critique by three female writers of the twentieth century: Jean Rhys (1890-1979), Muriel Spark (1918-2006) and Angela Carter (1940-1992). In literary studies, women’s literature is rarely understood through the lens of the comic, partially due to the marginalisation of comic discourses in that field. In humour studies, more critical attention is paid to social acts of humour or comedy in the performing arts than to analyses of literature. Taking a microcosmic approach to this theme, I will concentrate on signs or instances of the comic or humorous in the texts of Rhys, Spark and Carter to create targeted discussions of how each author theorises the trivial, amusing and nonsensical. This thesis will analyse, compare and contextualise the novels and short stories of Rhys, Spark and Carter, advancing a fresh perspective on each while contributing to discussions of comedy and humour in women’s literature more generally. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to understand how feminist literary comedy operated and transformed across this period of massive cultural change.

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Yvonne Edgren

Thesis title:  Exit Wounds

I was born in Finland and migrated to Australia as a child. I taught for some years in a small progressive school before completing an MA in Creative and Cultural Practice at WSU. My MA thesis, Small Disturbances, was published by Margaret River Press in the anthology Joiner Bay and Other Stories edited by Ellen Van Neerven. Currently I’m enrolled in a DCA with the Writing and Society Research Centre where I am working on a novel and studying the fiction of Jenny Erpenbeck.

My DCA research project – provisionally titled Exit Wounds - looks at the modern experience of temporality, and at the idea that prior moments have a material re-iteration in the present. It explores ways in which everyday experience, and the ordinary objects that inhabit that experience, are aesthetically rendered as containing and endlessly rehearsing the past. The fictional component of my DCA deals specifically with the way the violence and trauma of Twentieth Century Finnish history abides in the lives of a grandmother and her Australian granddaughter. Rather than setting these characters within the great sweep of historical events, though, my project focuses on small moments of intimacy, on the objects, rhythms and rituals that make up daily life, with the idea that the ordinary and repetitious connects experiential time with history.


Jill Gientzotis

Thesis title:  Alexis Wright’s Literary Sovereignty and a Self-Governing Indigenous World Literature

Jill was a Trade Union Secretary and Industrial Officer, Commissioner for Vocational Training in NSW and consulted on Vocational Training standards in Australia, Papua New Guinea and South Africa. She worked with First Nations organisations in arts management and remote community governance. Employed by NGOS, Government and Industry, she has lived in many countries and studied many languages. She holds a First Class Honours in Social Studies, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations and the Law, and a Master of Research (Creative Writing). She has held residencies at Bundanon and Varuna and is a published poet and short story writer.Jill’s research consists of a 30,000 word exegesis and a creative text of 70,000 words. The exegesis will examine Alexis Wright’s literary theories of sovereignty and conduct a comprehensive study of Wright’s The Swan Book (Australia 2013), Tina Makereti’s Where the Rhekou Bone Sings (New Zealand 2014) and Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse (Canada 2012). In dialogue with this research, a creative work will be developed in collaboration with Anangu from Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. The aim is to creatively explore and to critique the failures over successive generations of white interventions into these communities. Texts will trace an historical incident at a remote settler station in 1931, the contemporary collapse of an Aboriginal cattle station, and a consideration of an “elsewhere” to settler colonization.

Jake Goetz

Thesis title:  Scalar Shifts & Archival Drifts: Counter-Pastoral Collage & the Contemporary Australian Long Poem

Jake Goetz’s poetry and criticism have appeared in various publications, including TEXT, Best of Australian Poems 2021, Rabbit, Island, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Southerly, Overland and The Sun Herald. His poetry has been shortlisted for Overland’s Judith Wright Poetry Prize, Fair Australia Prize, and longlisted for the Peter Porter Poetry Prize. His first book of poetry, meditations with passing water (Rabbit Poets Series, 2018), a long poem written alongside the Maiwar (Brisbane River), was also shortlisted for the QLD Premier’s Award in 2019. His second book, Unplanned Encounters: Poems 2014-2020, is forthcoming with Apothecary Archive. He is currently undertaking a DCA at the Writing & Society Research Centre and is the Reviews Editor at Plumwood Mountain.

Since colonisation, the Australian environment has been a central theme for many settler-poets: from early colonial Romanticists such as Charles Harpur to the nationalistic jingoism of the Bush Balladeers, or from the environmental protest poetics of Judith Wright to more recent experiments in human/non-human representation under the guise of ‘Ecopoetics’. Extending from, or rather speaking back to, this long tradition of environmental poetics in Australian settler writing, my DCA project seeks to explore whether a more ecospatial representation of place through a poetics of “experiential collage” (Lowe 2014: 2) might enable poets to find a way to represent “place and space” from a more “historically alert and ethically revivified” perspective (Minter 2013: 158). The creative component of the project, a long poem in three parts titled Holocene, presents my own attempt to wrangle with this subject. It takes a formally experimental and dialectically materialist approach to writing the socio-ecological histories of three areas located on the Countries of the Eora and Dharawal Nations: the Cooks River Valley, the Kurnell Peninsula, and the Merrigong Range. Veering physically, mentally, and textually through these areas, the poem seeks out the regenerative possibilities of a poetics rooted in spontaneous moments of ecological encounter while also sifting through archival material to evoke a more stratigraphic interpretation of place – one where my own relation to different social, cultural, and historical strata is brought into question through what I call ‘counter-pastoral collage’. Accompanying Holocene, my critical exegesis conducts a post-colonial and ecocritical reading of another long/serialised place-based settler poem, Laurie Duggan’s Blue Hills (1980-). In this theoretical work I will argue that Duggan’s use of “experiential collage” enables the poet to perform ‘scalar shifts’ – the bringing together of thoughts/observations that occupy vastly different geographic and temporal scales. Through such a perceptually elucidative re-presentation of specific locales, I suggest that Duggan challenges both anthropocentric notions of the non-human, as well as western concepts of temporality, thereby providing an “insurgent countertopographic and counterhegemonic alternative” for understanding the idea of ‘place’ in the settler state of Australia (Boykoff 2013: 252).


Rhiannon Hall

Thesis title:  Finding a Voice: poetry, narrative, and authentic character voicing in the young adult verse novel

Rhiannon Hall has been sharing her love of poetry for the past nine years through a poetry club at the high school where she teaches. She has poems published in BlazeVOX20, Burrow, Cordite Poetry Review, Meniscus, Please See Me, Saraswati: A literary and art Ezine, Tarot, and has published an essay in Axon: Creative Explorations. She is a Doctor of Creative Arts candidate.

A desire to write poetry that tells a story and to write from personal experience is where Finding a Voice began. My verse novel, Finding a Voice, is set in a fictionalised Western Sydney public high school. I teach a diverse group of students and I have striven to capture the linguistic, cultural, economic diversity as well as students with ability and disabilities, and the range of personality types that I encounter every day. Cultural diversity is a given within this setting, however, other kinds of diversities are less immediately apparent. My poems are linked by their common setting and recurring characters, as well as the experiences of angst, turmoil, and identity formation. I address issues related to mental health, friendships, and sexual harassment, and through the varying emotional volume of the poems that respond to these issues, I resist the stereotype that all young people are moody and dramatic. My verse novel considers the impact of pressures to excel within an institution that values standardised tests and high stakes examinations. As I work to represent the diversity of a Western Sydney high school, I am also aware of myself as a cisgendered, heterosexual, white, and middle classed woman and, therefore, have consciously allowed readers closer to the narrative voices of characters whose privilege in society is similar to my own. Other characters’ voices may be heard in dialogue or through third person narration, but they do not feature as close, first-person narrators. Alongside my creative component, I examine a corpus of YA Australian verse noels through five technical aspects which have helped me to understand the trends in how teenagers are being represented in this form. More importantly, this framework where I explore the texts through the narrative features of authentic voicing, character, plot complication, perspectival complexity, and narrative tension allows for careful consideration of how the poetic features of these texts intersect with the narrative features. I will highlight the inventiveness of Australian YA verse novelists through my exploration of how the different poets use their verse to develop authentic voices, rounded characters, often complex plots, with engaging complications, and present the singular perspectives of their characters on the situations they face.


Ramona Kennedy

Thesis title: Impacts of Immersive Cross-cultural experience on Personal Transformation: An auto-ethnographic Approach to Writing Creative Non-fiction

After several years in Central Asia, Ramona Kennedy now lives with her husband, Ray, on Darug and Gundungurra Country in the beautiful Blue Mountains west of Sydney. She has been a nurse, a student of culture and language and a carer. Her writing journey began mid-life with an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University and a novella set in Central Asia. She recently renewed her tertiary education with a BA at Western Sydney. She has unknown writings in The Quarry Journal and the Labor Herald, and in 2020 had a tweet published in The Guardian.

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Hannan Lewsley

Thesis title:  The Novel as an Ecological Actor: A Reparative Poetics

Hannan Lewsley is currently completing a PhD with the Writing and Society Research Centre and School of Humanities and Communication Arts. His research interests include literary theory with a particular focus on the novel, postcolonialism, the environmental humanities and history.

Hannan’s current project explores how the novel as a literary form is being used within contemporary Australian literature to challenge dominant modes of discourse inherited from colonialism and informed by an anthropocentric understanding of the world. Through an analysis of the fiction of Alexis Wright and Richard Flanagan this project explores how literature is used in a creative capacity to consider and communicate alternate ways of being in, and relating to, the world. Tracing how human engagement with the natural environment has changed over time, this project shows how different cultural interactions between humans and the natural environment can offer more sustainable ways of being in the world.

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Aisha Makhdoom

Thesis title:  When Fact Becomes Fiction and Fiction Becomes Fact: A Post Modernist Study of Selected Graphic Memoirs

My project aims to critically analyse and compare the graphic memoirs of two Pakistani authors, Sabdezar Irfan’s Grey Matter and Sabba Khan’s The Roles we play with three graphic memoirs of Alison Bechdel, Fun Home and Are you my Mother and The Secret to Superhuman Strength to examine that how graphic memoir writers from different geographical locations deal with the fundamental questions of identity, self, truth and their intra-action(Barad) with the versions of their self at various points in times as well as how the external factors influence their lives to create their identities. The project will also aim to understand how graphic memoirs represent self by creating hyperreal truth by doing post modernist study of the selected texts.

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Joshua Mostafa

Thesis title: Newos Kanmn: Towards a Poetics of Prehistoric Fiction

Josh is interested in the spaces between things: prose and poetry, idea and narrative, the written and the spoken word. His novella Offshore (Seizure 2019) won the Viva la Novella Award, and has been optioned for screen adaptation. His short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in publications from the UK, USA, France and Australia.

Creative writers have attempted to depict the prehistoric world since the emergence of ‘prehistory’ as a concept in the late nineteenth century. As well as popularising archaeological knowledge, creative writing enables speculative thinking about the deep past, increasingly acknowledged in the field of archaeology as a useful tool of inquiry. However, studies of fictional works set in prehistory are scarce, and tend to focus on scientific accuracy, verisimilitude and ideological function. These analyses do not engage in a substantial way with the fundamental particularity of writing about a world without writing. This thesis grapples with this problematic in the following ways. The exegesis examines the epistemic bases on which creative writing constructs stories about prehistory, and the narrative, rhetorical and stylistic techniques used in certain key works of prehistoric fiction. By analysing these texts in the light of studies on narratology and orality, I arrive at the claim that the medium of prose fiction imposes limitations on writers of stories set in prehistory. This claim is the starting point for the creative component of the thesis, a verse drama set in Chalcolithic south-eastern Europe. Drawing on comparative studies of ancient poetic traditions, the play is written using multiple devised metrical forms, for the dialogue and also for storytelling and other formal speech embedded within the text. The play’s storyline is loosely based on elements common to two epics, the Iliad and the Ramayana, reframing them as an encounter between invasive and indigenous populations. The exegesis supports this work by examination of modern poetic and dramatic texts that employ techniques relevant to the creative project, and to theorists in performance and theatre studies, and describes the process by which the metres of the play were devised. As a whole, the thesis presents a challenge both to the practice and study of creative writing about prehistory.


Alex Wise

Thesis title: Heimweg: Memories, motherlands, and the homes we return to

Alex Wise is a writer and Doctor of Creative Arts candidate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (First Class Honours) and International Studies. She was a recipient of the Baden-Württemberg Scholarship to study in Germany and has presented her research on memory and place at the Memory, Affects and Emotions international interdisciplinary conference in Gdańsk, Poland. Alex has worked in writing and editing roles across the not-for-profit, government and tertiary sectors, and is currently content editor at the Universities Admissions Centre.

About Alex’s thesis project: ‘In 1952 my German grandmother, Hilla Kellner, began writing letters to an unknown man on the other side of the world. One year later, compelled by his idyllic descriptions of the Australian landscape and the prospect of starting her own family, she left Germany to live with my grandfather in suburban Adelaide. Hilla's attempts to build a second life in this new, strange land, however, would always be shadowed by the events of the war and the death of her four brothers and fiancé, accompanied by the losses of her homeland and language, marked by the memories of her childhood. Heimweg is a memoir that traces journeys – real, remembered and imagined – to the places that shaped my grandmother. As a pregnant woman, facing the uncertainties of first-time motherhood, I travel to the houses where Hilla’s parents would shelter when they crossed the border from East to West Germany, where she cared for her widowed sister’s five children after the war, and finally to Markt 9, the house where she was born. Using photos and archival letters, oral histories, my grandmother’s diaries and dog-eared books, I attempt to piece together her narrative of displacement and hope. But as I examine Hilla’s life – and as I approach the steps of Markt 9, a house that has in the century since my grandmother was born been damaged by fire, repainted, divided, buried in layers of time and change – I am forced to question to what extent we can ever truly return home.’