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Jessica White

New information uncovered during her research altered the direction of Jessica's new novel.

 

What

Jessica WhiteAuthor Jessica White received funding towards researching and writing her non-fiction work, Rosa’s Ghosts about 19th century Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter, Maud. Jessica spent her time reading Praed’s novels and archives in the John Oxley Library and other papers at the National Library in Canberra.

Initially, Jessica was retracing the steps of other Praed researchers but uncovered information about Praed’s daughter, Maud, not previously written about in other biographies. The discovery of Maud’s deafness has provided a new perspective on characters with disabilities in Praed’s novels. Jessica also uncovered Maud’s medical documents in UK archives and was able to peruse them during a UK trip in October 2014. This exciting new material also included a photo of Maud.

At the 2014 annual conference for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Jessica presented a paper on Rosa Praed and her appropriation of other people's memories. She has also submitted an essay on the use of sound in Praed's novels to the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature for a special issue on soundscapes. Both these papers have helped to establish her among her peers as a scholar on Praed and on representations of disability.

Jessica intends to finalise the writing of Rosa’s Ghosts in early 2015 and will be submitting it to a national press for publication.

 

Where and when

Brisbane and Canberra,  February to June 2014 

 

Arts Queensland contribution

$5000 – Individuals Fund

The Individuals Fund supports artists and cultural workers to participate in transformational professional and career development opportunities.

 

Outcomes

  • The main outcome of Jessica’s research was finding information about deaf characters in Praed's novels in the John Oxley library in Brisbane, and about Maud in the Murray-Prior papers of the National Library of Australia in Canberra. These deaf characters have not been discussed in the scholarship on Praed. Jessica’s analysis of them represents a new approach to Praed’s writing and subject matter. Likewise the information about Praed in the National Library of Australia archives has not been previously contextualised in terms of Maud's deafness. 
  • Meanjin journal will be publishing an essay on Jessica’s research. Jessica has not been published with Meanjin before and this will raise her profile as a writer. (Update - A copy of Jessica's article Hearing Maud can be found on the Meanjin Quarterly website)
  • Jessica has received a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts' Artists with Disabilities Program to write her third novel and believes receiving the Individuals funding helped contribute to her successful application.

 

 Learnings and reflections

Jessica is deaf herself and this influenced her approach to the writing and archives of Rosa Praed and has opened up opportunities for further projects: 

My main learning from this activity was that people are interested in the stories of deaf people and would like to know more about them. All of those to whom I outlined my research, from scholars to publishers to friends, have been fascinated by Maud's and Rosa's stories. I was particularly heartened by the response of Zora Sanders, who liked my pitch for Meanjin and who had expressly requested essays for the journal on representations of people with disability. She contributed to my increasing awareness of the importance of speaking and writing about my deafness. Particularly as it has occurred to me that, of the some 10-15 conferences I have presented at in the last five years about my research and writing, I have never encountered another person with a disability. I don't know if there just aren't many people with disabilities working as scholars, or if they find it too tiring or difficult to present their work because of their disability. I have found that it is crucial that I keep speaking and writing about deafness. 

I have also thoroughly enjoyed reading about Praed's accounts of Brisbane, as she lived in and around Shafston Avenue, not far from where I am in East Brisbane. I found it fascinating to read about what the area was once like (very lush, with passengers ferried across the Brisbane River in small boats). 

There isn't all that much that I would do differently in my practice, having undertaken this project. My research process remains the same, but I will approach the rewriting of my material to reinforce my own experiences of deafness, as a way of explaining what Maud's experiences might have been like.

 

Update

In July 2019, Jessica released her book Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice with an acknowledgement of how Arts Queensland funding enabled her research to uncover new material, changing the focus and direction of her book: 

Finding these records completely shifted the direction of my work from non-fiction into memoir, and it turned out brilliantly. – Jessica White

Hearing Maud is a work of creative non-fiction that details the author’s experiences of deafness after losing most of her hearing at age four. It charts how, as she grew up, she was estranged from people and turned to reading and writing for solace, eventually establishing a career as a writer. 

Central to her narrative is the story of Maud Praed, the deaf daughter of 19th century Queensland expatriate novelist Rosa Praed. The breakup of Maud’s family destabilised her mental health and at age 28 she was admitted to an asylum, where she stayed until she died almost 40 years later. It was through uncovering Maud’s story that the author began to understand her own experiences of deafness and how they contributed to her emotional landscape, relationships and career. 

"This is an extraordinary and poignant memoir written in an embodied and attentive style. White offers us glimpses of global deaf history woven with the tapestry of her own life/story and accentuated with the lives of Rosa and Maud Praed. Hearing Maud is a literary seduction about literary seductions." Brenda Jo Brueggemann, author of Lend Me Your Ear and Deaf Subjects.
 

Contact for further information

Website:  http://www.jessicawhite.com.au