Eda Gunaydin wears a black dress and black glasses, sits on a bench and smiles at the camera. The background is slightly blurry. Photo: Paul Jones

Eda Gunaydin reflects on family and history in award-winning essay collection

Eda Gunaydin reflects on family and history in award-winning essay collection

Turkish-Australian academic joins UOW as lecturer in School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

What does it mean to be a migrant living in contemporary Australia? How does one create a full, meaningful life when constantly torn between two worlds? To what extent do we inherit the trauma of our family’s histories?

These questions are the heart of Eda Gunaydin’s book Root & Branch: Essays on Inheritance, which was recently recognised with the Prize for Non-Fiction in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2023.

The award came as a surprise for the Turkish-Australian academic, who joined the University of Wollongong (UOW) in January as a lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry.

“I didn’t expect to be shortlisted nor to win,” Eda said. “But it is wonderful to see my small book receive a wider readership and recognition.” 

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards are among the most prestigious honours in Australian literature.

Root & Branch, published by NewSouth Press, explores the legacies of migration, replacement and place. The essays are embedded in Eda’s experiences as a second-generation migrant growing up in Western Sydney. But it also captures the tension between the personal and political, between her own life and its myriad complexities, and the lives of countless Australians building new homes on the foundations of their family histories.

In accepting her award at the ceremony in Melbourne in February, Eda told the crowd: “I wrote this in order to argue against individualism and against excessive faith in meritocracy and to argue instead that we must keep our focus on altering the everyday conditions of the many.

“We must think of so many of the traumas that we face — abuse, migration, poverty, the ongoing reality of settler-colonialism — first and foremost as material things.”

It is a book that delves deep into Eda’s psyche, but she said the non-fiction form allows her to explore issues that are close to her heart while maintaining a sense of distance.

“It is an essay collection. It brings together my personal writing as a second-generation migrant, while also engaging with cultural criticism to engage with central questions that are more universal for the migrant experience – how do we be here?” she said. 

“For second-generation migrants, a lot of cultural messaging tells us we are stuck in two places. We have identities that are splintered, fractured. You’re not fully Australian, but you can’t call the motherland home either. I’ve never spent more than a few months in Turkey, but migration involves a lot of mixed identities.

“My aim, in Root & Branch, was to come up with a more satisfying answer for people who live their lives in two halves, who live in the diaspora. Our lives can be whole and full, but what responsibilities do we also have as migrants?

“The book has resonance. I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends who have found the conversations about the legacy of migration relevant to their own experiences. They struggle with the same questions of intergenerational trauma and class.”

Eda joined UOW as a Lecturer (Career Development Fellow) in International Studies after completing her PhD at the University of Sydney last year. Eda’s doctorate will be conference later this year. Her thesis focused on the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, an area known as Rojava, and its model of governance, and how it implements its own vision of democracy, feminism, sustainability, equality and religious tolerance. The topic of her PhD, too, was rooted in her background in the region and her fascination with the political climate of the Middle East.

Although Eda always dreamed of being a writer, she is amazed by her dual career as an academic.

“I didn’t even know what an academic was until my third or fourth year of university,” she said. “I was always a big bookworm and I do recall in kindergarten wanting to be a writer, but I abandoned the idea of doing that once I knew how difficult it was to make a living. I come from a working-class background but somehow, I have landed smack-bang in the middle class.”

The social justice threads of UOW, a place where equality and equity are always at the forefront, drew Edato her new role. She is thrilled to work largely out of UOW South Western Sydney, a place that resonates with her own upbringing. 

“I really fit the common student profile at the Liverpool campus. I’m excited to be able to expand my pedagogical practices and take my teaching in that direction,” Eda said.

“UOW is known as an employer that values social justice and has won a lot of awards for equality. For me, those values are important. I’m very excited about my role at UOW.”