i first met helen darville in august 1994. she introduced herself as helen demidenko, she had enrolled in the series of creative writing workshops organised by BEMAC for the Multicultural Writers Association. we also began the MA at UQ together that year.
helen's little hoax ignited discussion throughout the literary culture of Australia. the issue was about authenticity and how whilst she was thought of as ukrainian the novel was of prize-winning quality, but if it was written by an english migrant's daughter, then it was a pile of crap. Many jewish people in Australia thought it was a pile of crap right from the start.
being my first year at university, since completing a BSc with honours in Microbiology in 1973, the Master of Arts in Creative Writing was my first formal introduction to literary theory, and people like Barthes, Sontag, Stein, Benjamin, and theories like New Criticism, structuralism, post-structuralism and post modernism were constantly being discussed.
one lesson i learnt well that year was that 'the i that writes is not the i that is written'. everything is a fiction even if you are writing about your self, or who you think your self is. but i was even more shocked by helen and her constructed identity, one i felt i had helped to construct as these videos will demonstrate. and it made me think of my previous career as a performance poet and how my work had been considered authentic ethnic writing and how i had been used to demonstrate that to children of the outback, the western suburbs and the very rich. i questioned my whole ten year career and the reason i was doing what i was doing, or at least why i started doing it in 1985. i considered part of my mission or purpose was to increase awareness of the Australian community that indeed we were a multi-cultural Australia. if helen darville could convince the nation she was ukrainian and that her writing was authentic experience then there was no purpose left in what i had been doing. i brought into question the authenticity of my own voice, of my own writing, and was the quality more to do with who i was rather than what i was writing about. i wanted to remove myself from my writing so that when people read or heard the words they would not see me. and it changed me as a writer from that point on.
helen darville the UQ english honours student
helen demidenko - ukrainian poet
helen demidenko ukrainian-australian poet
helen demidenko - award winning novelist