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Imagining different futures

23 June 2022
Scholarship funds support an award-winning writer to create a new genre of speculative fiction
Winning the 2021 Dame Leonie Kramer Postgraduate Research Scholarship has given Doctor of Creative Arts candidate, Mykalea Saunders, the biggest gift of all—the gift of time.

Mykalea Saunders, sums up the benefits of being awarded the 2021 Dame Leonie Kramer Postgraduate Research Scholarship in a few simple words. “Time is money,” she says, and “this scholarship gives you the time you need to do your work well … It allowed me to say no to the extra work I take on to pay the bills, and just focus my thesis.”

Mykalea Saunders

Mykalea Saunders

This was great for my study but also did wonders for my mental health, not having to worry about where my income was coming from, and having to juggle work and study.
Mykalea Saunders, Doctor of Creative Arts candidate

Mykalea, who is studying for a Doctor of Arts (Creative Writing), is a Koori and Lebanese writer, teacher and community researcher whose writing has been widely published across forms, genres and disciplines.

She’s already received significant recognition for her work including winning the Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize 2020 for River Story,  the QPF Oodgeroo Noonuccal Indigenous Poetry Prize 2020 for Choice Cuts and the National Indigenous Story Awards 2020 for Fire Bug.

In 2016 she was awarded the University of Sydney Sister Alison Bush Medal 2016 for Indigenous research. The medal is one of the Alumni Award Graduate Medals offered by the University, which recognise recent graduates by celebrating those who have made outstanding contributions to their field and their communities. On winning the Medal she said:

I come from an incredible Koori culture that values our communities above all else and prioritises connection and culture. It’s great to see the university celebrating our cultural values too.
Mykaela Saunders, Sister Alison Bush Medal Winner 2016

Mykalea’s unique Doctor Arts research project combines her interests in Aboriginal sovereignty, the genre of Indigenous Futurism and creative writing in the short story form. It “introduces Goori Futurism as a new genre of speculative fiction.”

The creative component of her thesis titled ALWAYS WILL BE features ten short stories,

“tied together by politics, setting and genre … all of the stories are set in the Tweed, in different versions of the Future, with various climate scenarios, population dynamics and political structures.”

Her research has also led to her working as the editor of This All Come Back Now , the world’s first collection of blackfella speculative fiction, forthcoming with University of Queensland Press in 2022. The anthology is “written, curated, edited and designed by blackfellas, for blackfellas and about blackfellas …  It’s a love letter to kin and country, to memory and future-thinking.”

The Scholarship was created in 1992 in memory of another woman dedicated to the study and writing of Australian literature, Dame Leonie Kramer.

Portrait of Dame Leonie Kramer

Dame Leonie Kramer, Deputy Chancellor University of Sydney, 1980 Archives# G3_224_1352

Her early years as an academic were built around her passion for Australian literature aand she made a huge contribution to the institution it is today. She was first appointed as Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney in 1968 and went on to become deputy chancellor in 1989, before taking on the role of chancellor from 1991 to 2001. She was the first female to occupy that position.

Valued at $8000, the Dame Leonie Kramer scholarship provides financial assistance to Masters' by Research or PhD students undertaking research in Australian Literature. Preference is given to students who experience financial hardship or disadvantage, due to cultural, socio-economic or social background.

As well as being grateful for the assistance provided by the scholarship funds, Mykaela is incredibly thankful for the guidance and support of her supervisors, Peter Minter and Vanessa Berry, the Creative Writing course coordinator, Beth Yahp, and all the other English and Aboriginal Studies staff.

Archive photo of Dame Leonie Kramer in Great Hall welcoming new students in 1991.

Dame Leonie Kramer in Great Hall at welcome to new students, 1991. USYd Archives G77_1_2335

Asked what message she’d give to the donors who provided the funds in honour of Dame Leonie, Mykalea knows exactly what she’d say.

Thank you! All my gratitude (and my family's too), as this helped my study more than any other single thing this year.

With the gift of time to focus on her thesis, Mykalea is looking forward to graduating soon. And her plans after that? … A lot more writing and reading.