Adapting: Graham Akhurst

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Adapting: Art in the time of Coronavirus, is a series of case studies that provide insight into the personal experiences of our grantee community and the effect COVID-19 has had on their professional development plans, creative practice and personal wellbeing.

Graham Akhurst is an Aboriginal writer and academic from the Kokomini of Northern Queensland. With the aid of a Cultural Trust grant Graham began the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Fiction at Hunter College, New York.

When New York City became a COVID-19 epicentre, Graham made the difficult decision to stay in the United States while completing his course online. “My wife and I discussed if we should return to Australia. We decided against it as I have a compromised immune system due to cancer treatment in 2011.” 

Graham continues to learn from renowned writers, Peter Carey, Adam Haslett, ZZ Packer, and Tea Obrecht and has gained contacts in the New York publishing sector. These networks will help Graham secure American representation for his next work, a collection of short stories he is currently working on.

“I am fortunate that my creative practice is mainly a solitary endeavour. I spend my days reading, thinking, and writing. The major impact of COVID-19 was the anxiety and mental energy that I have put into it. The unknown and the decisions we had to make took a toll mentally. Working online is also not ideal as the added isolation to an already solitary endeavour is taxing. However, I am so lucky to have my beautiful wife Jordan here with me. I am not sure how I would have survived this without her.”

The decision to stay has allowed Graham to witness first-hand COVID-19’s impact on the New York City arts scene. “The impact of COVID-19 on the arts scene in New York City has been devastating. Movie theatres are still shut. Galleries have suffered. Arts grants and residencies have been put on hold. The acquisition of creative work has stilled. Broadway has been shut for months and months and the theatre scene has all but evaporated. Debut novelists are tracking very poorly. I feel incredibly fortunate that I secured funding and was able to be accepted into an MFA program before COVID-19, as I think this would not have been possible afterwards.”

Interviewed in 2020.

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