Sharing stories in another language

Graeme Turner
English is a second language for many Australians who are Deaf. Writing in English can be difficult. It is very different to speaking in Auslan. A writing workshop at the Melbourne Writers Festival next month will help people who are Deaf and hearing impaired to improve their writing skills. Last year's workshop was very successful. The people in the workshop learned a lot about writing. The workshop is run by award-winning author Arnold Zable. Arnold says many people have powerful stories to tell.
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Graeme Turner on 25/08/2011
A close up of a pair of hands typing on a black computer keyboard in front of a PC monitor
A close up of a pair of hands typing on a black computer keyboard in front of a PC monitor

Giving people the chance to develop their writing skills and share their stories

Many people do not realise that English is a second language for most Australians who are Deaf. Aspiring Deaf writers such as Stephanie (Stef) Linder typically communicate in Auslan.

Stef says it is a challenge to write in English. She says English is structured very differently to Auslan. But Stef says she learned a great deal from a writing workshop at last year's Melbourne Writers Festival. The upcoming festival is again giving people who are Deaf and hearing impaired the chance to develop their writing skills and share their stories.

Where to start

Eli Fotopoulos was also a participant in last year's Deaf Can Write workshop. Eli found the workshop very useful. I believe (the workshop) is very important for Deaf people who want to write but don't know what or where to start, says Eli. He was also motivated by the workshop to connect with other people who are Deaf.

The workshop will again be conducted by Arnold Zable. Arnold is an award-winning Australian writer with Polish-Jewish parents who were refugees. His books focus mainly on the migrant experience. They include The Fig Tree and Violin Lessons.

Arnold has worked with asylum seekers and other marginalised people. But he says he learned more from last year's Deaf workshop than from any other he has conducted. Arnold says the participants displayed a real engagement and sense of community. Most writers wished to share their Deaf experience. Some wrote stories on misunderstandings arising from being Deaf.

Painting with words

Arnold noted that some writers who are Deaf can be very visual. He says they are able to paint what they see with words. Arnold says that while some might not have had fluent English, they had a distinct voice. There was something extraordinary about the writing... and way of seeing things, Arnold says.

Eli also has praise for his teacher. I thought the way he explained was simple, clear and concise, he says. Arnold offered useful advice and much encouragement. If you were always wanting to be a writer but unsure where to start, I would recommend the workshop. It absolutely reignited my passion to be a writer.

Powerful writing

Some of the participants from last year's workshop have done a lot of writing since. Arnold thinks many participants might have a great book in them. Eli is already working on his first novel.

In his own writing, Arnold likes to tell the stories of people who do not normally have a voice. Sometimes the most powerful writing came from people who might not have been as fluent in that conventional sense, Arnold says. But they can have a powerful story to tell.

The Deaf Can Write workshop will be held on September 4 at the Wheelan Centre in Melbourne.

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