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Grant to fund writer's work on loss during lockdown

Tuesday 26 May 2020 8:40am

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A grant from Copyright Licensing New Zealand will help Creative Writing Professional Practice Fellow Dr Majella Cullinane complete Meantime, a work she describes as a very personal reflection on the realities of grieving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was surprised and delighted to receive the grant – it will allow me to work for several months on a project that is very close to my heart, the poetic dimension of which has been simmering for several years.” 

But her success “was also bittersweet.”

On Good Friday, 10 April, Majella’s mother died in Ireland, and due to the COVID-19 travel ban she was unable to attend her funeral. 

“In the past, the first person I would have rung to share any writing success would have been my mother, but alas on this occasion I couldn't.”

To process the final weeks of her mother’s life, the unfolding urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, and having not been able to mourn the loss of a parent, Majella began keeping a diary that chronicled her experiences since Alert Level 4 and lockdown began on 23 March.

Meantime will explore themes of grief and loss, memory and place, life and death, and more specifically, the effects of dementia on the individual and family.

“A survey conducted by Alzheimers.org.nz in 2017 shows four out of every five New Zealanders knows or has known someone with dementia. I would like to explore this, and create a contemporary document, which through poetry and the essay/memoir, records the unprecedented experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic in Otago, Aotearoa.”

Beyond the project’s personal dimensions, Majella wants the work to be a broader reflection on how loss experienced during, and following, pandemic, will be varied. 

“I wish to, in part, voice the sentiments of many New Zealanders and particularly immigrants who are currently experiencing many kinds of grief, not only for loved ones, as in the case of the dementia patient who died without family in Rosewood Rest Home in Canterbury, or indeed my own experience, but more generally grieving for livelihoods lost or separation from family and friends.”

 About Dr Cullinane

 Majella was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Otago's Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies in February this year. She was to graduate in May but due to the COVID-19 lockdown the ceremony was postponed.

She is currently a Professional Practice Fellow in Creative Writing at the School of Arts and will be leading ENGL 217 Creative Writing: Poetry in semester 2. Her creative practice thesis explored the interplay of memory and setting in the short fiction of Colum McCann, and also included a collection of short stories.

Originally from Ireland, Majella has lived in New Zealand since 2008 and writes fiction, poetry and essays. Her 2018 debut novel The Life of De’Ath was shortlisted for the NZSA Heritage Book Awards and longlisted for the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Fiction. Her second poetry collection Whisper of a Crow’s Wing was published by Otago University Press and Salmon Poetry, Ireland, and was selected as one of The Listener’s Ten Best Poetry Books of 2018. She has published poetry, short stories, essays and reviews in Ireland, the UK, the USA and New Zealand. She was Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 2014, Sir James Wallace/Pah Homestead Writer in Residence in 2017, and a joint recipient of the 2019 Dan Davin Literary Foundation Writer in Residence. Last year she was awarded a 2020 Hawthornden Fellowship in Edinburgh. She lives with her partner Andrew and their son Robbie in Port Chalmers. n

In April Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) announced Contestable Fund Grants would be available to support writing and publishing sector projects affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Click here for the full list of projects.