Protection for queer communities and their rights lies at the heart of this year’s Landfall Essay Competition winning essay, “A Jigsaw of Broken Things" by Siobhan Harvey. Powerful and unflinching, Harvey uses her memories like stepping stones as she examines the violence and prejudices that repress queer communities worldwide.
"The essay interlaces my personal experience of questioning my identity in the 1980s – and the parental, societal and political ostracism that resulted – with a contemporary consideration of how, in many ways in many countries around the world, despite supposed progress since the second half of the 20th century, queer people continue to be the targets of social and political exclusion, bigotry and prohibition."
Harvey says Aotearoa isn’t immune to the recent influx of prohibition that queer people worldwide are experiencing, and she calls for New Zealanders to not be complacent in our vigilance towards violence and prejudice against queer communities.
"As someone who came out at a time of unadulterated political, cultural, psychological, and physical brutality, revulsion and spite against queer people, I had to write against the rejuvenation of hardcore opposition to and oppression against the community still; I felt a duty to do so."
Harvey was also driven to write the essay for her son and his generation who live in a world where "the beautiful diaspora of identity" has widened, yet they still face the "brutal battleground, in which the identities that they claim are not just under assault from hardline politicians and social commentators, but have been turned into the aegis of radicalism, including homicides, massacres and state-endorsed execution".
"I wrote A Jigsaw of Broken Things to protect my son from becoming a victim of that. On a social conscience level as a writer, I want to protect everyone who is queer from becoming a victim.
"It’s less a message than a provocation and call for change. As someone who has experienced and continues to live with some of the most damaging consequences of bigotry against queer people (for there are fewer more destructive outcomes of intolerance than prolonged rejection by one’s parents and birthplace), I know that the status of queer people in society must change for their betterment."
In her judge’s report, Landfall editor Lynley Edmeades writes that Harvey’s essay is a "beautifully crafted and timely comment on prejudice against the LGBTQIA+ community".
"Harvey holds this contemporary issue in view while also weaving in her own story, one ultimately fraught with a failure to be accepted into her family because of the 'contamination' inherent to her 'unlovable' self. The essay picks apart the fragments of memory, experience, and pain that make up a life like this, and performs the same kind of failure that lies behind the painfully reductive attempt to pick up the pieces."
Second place was awarded to Tīhema Baker for his essay, New Zealander of the Year. Highly commended were Liz Breslin for She stuck to the wheel well’, Hannah August for I am here to tell you that someone was, Pennie Hunt with Ghost House and Jillian Sullivan with Because I’m reading Cendra.
More about A Jigsaw of Broken Things
Siobhan’s winning essay, A Jigsaw of Broken Things, and the full judge’s report are published in Landfall 246: Spring 2023, edited by Lynley Edmeades.