Getting to know 2024 DHA shortlistee, Kaya Ortiz

DHA2024 Interview Kaya Ortiz Samantha Hearn The Dorothy Hewett Award

Past and Parallel Lives by Kaya Ortiz is a coming-of-age unpublished poetry collection that is shortlisted for the 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award. In this mini-interview, Ortiz shares what it feels like to be shortlisted, and explores the collection’s inspiration and writing process. 


Kaya Ortiz's headshotKaya Ortiz is a queer Filipino poet of in/articulate identities and record-keeper of ancient histories. Kaya hails from the southern islands of Mindanao and Lutruwita/Tasmania and is obsessed with the fluidity of borders, memory and time. Their writing has appeared in Portside Review, Westerly, Australian Poetry Journal, Best of Australian Poems 2021 and After Australia (Affirm Press 2020), among others. Kaya lives and writes on unceded Whadjuk Noongar country, where their name means ‘hello’ in the Noongar language. 


Past and Parallel Lives documents the complexities of becoming. A coming-of-age memoir, these haunted poems grapple with ever-shifting selfhood through displacement, religious trauma, and queer and cultural identities. Migration marks the beginning: a breaking open into loss and remembrance. Queer desire struggles to be seen against the bounds of religion. Possible parallel lives emerge, and through Star Trek characters a mirror to understand being alien, queer, other; a way to imagine possible queer futures. Finally, a poetic return to the self: the ever-present ghosts of past and parallel lives are understood not as separate timelines but all-connected and ever-evolving. The 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award judges describe Past and Parallel Lives as "poetic offering that thrums in liminal spaces. It’s about the migratory experience, the queer body, the unfixed, confused identity carving a space in the world. It’s about borrowed languages, (un)belonging, and attempts of navigating treacherous cultural and racial expectations with courage and grace."

UWA Publishing intern, Samantha Hearn, interviewed Kaya about their shortlisting: 

Samantha: How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award? 

Kaya: It’s such an honour to be shortlisted for the award. Past and Parallel Lives is my first collection of poetry, and it was fellow WA poets Alan Fyfe, Lisa Collyer and Scott-Patrick Mitchell who urged me to submit my manuscript to the Dorothy Hewett Award, about ten days before the deadline. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, though I was grateful to know my manuscript was being read by someone, which made it feel more real. When I got the news about the shortlisting I was flabbergasted (what a fun word) and over the moon to receive this kind of recognition for my work. 

S: What was the inspiration behind your manuscript Past and Parallel Lives? 

K: The poems contained in Past and Parallel Lives draw inspiration from my lived experiences of migration, religion, queerness, and identity. A coming of age story, this is how the manuscript began. But like all art, the story and its meaning exist in layers. 

I knew early on in the process that the core impulse of the collection was longing. It took a bit longer to see the threads of time running through it all – time past and future, time lost, time longed for and imagined. This was also an inspiration, though it only became clear to me quite late in the process, as I searched for a title to the collection. 

Titling my manuscript Past and Parallel Lives led to an unfolding of the story beneath the story. Ultimately, time is also about the self that is bound by time: a shifting, multidimensional, time-travelling self. It offered a new way to see and understand the poems that came before, and to fill in the gaps, the shadows now illuminated as the collection finally came together. 

S: Can you tell us a bit about the writing process for Past and Parallel Lives? 

One thing I’ve learned during this process is that there are many ways to put together a poetry collection. For Past and Parallel Lives, my first collection, I began with printing out between 20-30 poems from the last five years that fit into my vision for the story I wanted to tell. 

There were a few things I knew at the outset. Firstly, that it would be a coming of age story with a narrative arc. I knew that it would be divided into three parts. And lastly, my deep familiarity with the themes that repeat in my body of work became the scaffolding that allowed me to begin. So those existing 20-30 poems were sorted according to this knowledge. My strategy being that I could simply fill in the gaps. 

That makes it all seem pretty straightforward. Art and creativity are never straightforward, but I love that. The curveballs, the unexpected revelations, the long-awaited epiphanies. I spent time with my poetry in a way I never had before – revising, rewriting, drafting anew. Splitting open, splicing together. It was fun, and challenging, and fulfilling work. I could ramble on for ages about it, but I won’t. I’ll just end by saying that the poems are smarter than I am. I just follow where they lead. 


Past and Parallel Lives is an unpublished poetry manuscript shortlisted for the 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award. The winner will be announced in June. Find out more about Kaya on their websiteFind out more about the 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award shortlist including the official media release.

Samantha Hearn is a Curtin University student who is in her final semester of postgraduate studies, completing an MA of Arts, majoring in Professional Writing and Publishing. She has a love for reading, writing and literature (specifically in the fiction genres) and has a passion to work within the publishing industry.  

Samantha Hearn | LinkedIn



Check out our interviews with the other 5 shortlisted writers:

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