Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chinese Straight

I'm thrilled to be part of SBS television's True Stories podcast, reading an extract from my memoir, titled Chinese Straight. You can listen here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Feminism and Opportunity

When The Wheeler Centre contacted me early in 2015 to ask if I wanted to host an evening with Haitian-American writer Roxane Gay, I hesitated. Time magazine had named 2014 the Year of Roxane Gay. The author of the ground-breaking collection of personal essays Bad Feminist, and the then recently released novel Untamed State, Gay was black literary royalty. In my mind, it was like granting the overenthusiastic page boy an audience with the Queen. And despite my public speaking credentials and many panel appearances, I’d only ever hosted two events before. You may never get an opportunity like this again, I told myself. Just say yes, and work the rest out later (advice writer and comedian Catherine Deveny once gave me, about working as a mother and an artist.)

Going into the talk, I was intensely over-prepared. I’d combed through Gay’s essays and blog posts online, read both books more than twice. I thought a lot about all the things I didn’t like hosts to do: talk over the guest or continue a line of questioning the guest clearly wasn’t interested in; edging in on the talking space of the panelists. I knew from what I’d researched that Gay certainly didn’t need  me on stage. I was there as a prompt, to keep the conversation rolling if it happened to get stuck; to mediate audience questions if required. Most of all, I took the job because I wanted to see Roxane Gay talk, from the best seat in the house. Because now I could get her to answer all of the burning questions I had.

It was an incredible evening, and a fascinating discussion. Casual right from get-go. In the footage of the event, I look laid-back and who-really-cares casual. I can’t believe how calm you were, friends kept saying afterwards. You were sitting next to Roxane Gay, and you didn’t even look phased. If you look closely, on the recorded interview, you can see the increasing shine on my forehead as I grew sweatier and sweatier with skillfully concealed WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE panic.

Arriving home that evening, I peeled off my drenched outfit, had a glass of wine and patted myself on the back for having pulled off such a literary coup.

Several weeks later, The Wheeler Centre contacted me again. The talk with Roxane Gay had been part of a new series of talks around feminism which would unroll throughout 2015 under the banner of “The F Word”. How would I like to host the rest of the series?

I’d love to! I said.

Have you ever hosted a panel discussion before? Asked a friend, when I told her about the series. No. She looked at me, concerned. God, what if I stuff up. How embarrassing. Panel hosting is pretty different to just being on a panel. Maybe they should get someone else. There was a short pause. Take the opportunity, she said. Sit on that stage. Take up that chair, and don’t let anyone shove you off it. Least of all your own fear.  Who cares if you mess up. You’ll just do better the next time.

Things mostly went to plan. The research – my God – was intense. Particularly around topics like Feminism and Science and Feminism and Sport, which were way outside my area of expertise. But I got there. Mistakes were made. After almost every panel, I got up from the host’s chair thinking of things I’d do differently next time. But I imagine that’s the nature of hosting. Highlights include the panel on Feminism and Class, with Anne Summers and Alice Pung, with Alice’s bub asleep on stage or playing in her lap for the entire hour; hanging out backstage with surfer Layne Beachley, swimmer Leisel Jones and sports journalist Angela Pippos listening to Layne and Angela tell the funny stories of how they met their life partners – the three of us joking that we might change the panel topic to stories of how people meet each other. Researching the Feminism and Aboriginality and Feminism and Disability panels highlighted how much I still didn’t know about various parts of intersectional feminism - how much the conversation in these areas of feminism needs to be kept centre stage.

When African American actor Viola Davis won an Emmy earlier this year, she said: Let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. Putting a woman of colour in the driving seat says something. Yes, still, in 2015, in Australia. The way I look at the world will be different from the way a middle aged Anglo Australian host looks at the world. Not better, or more valid. Just markedly different. Which means the conversation will most likely take a different path. The opportunity to step outside of the box women of colour are put in, of only being asked to write or talk about race or diversity, doesn’t come along as often as you’d think. The more diverse hosts and guests are, the more interesting and nuanced conversations the audience or readers will have access to. Diversity makes things more interesting, makes the conversations more real.

I’m grateful to The Wheeler Centre for the opportunity to host The F Word, for having faith in me to guide the series, on nothing but a hunch.

Thank you to the audience members who attended, the event staff, and all of the incredible women who participated in The F Word in 2015: Jax-Jacki Brown, Anne Summers, Naomi Chainey, Jessica Knight, Kath Duncan, Alice Pung, Melissa Lucashenko, Kate White, Sharon Lewin, Roxane Gay, Celeste Liddle, Jordie Albiston, Katie Mack, Rachel Power, Liz Shields, Zakia Baig, Leisel Jones, Layne Beachley, Angela Pippos, Kate Belle, Kat Mayo, Beth Driscoll, Alyena Mohummadally, Bernadette Tobin, Jordie Silverstein (and Anita Sarkeesian, with Sophie Black).

And thanks to Monique Hameed, who stepped in to do my other job at home, while I hosted The F Word.

Long live opportunity.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Patchwork Bike

The Patchwork Bike, my kids picture book collaboration with Melbourne artist Van. T. Rudd, will be published in Australia in late 2016.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ziggy Stardust Liner Notes

I'm performing at Ziggy Stardust Liner Notes this coming Saturday October 17th will a stellar Melbourne cast. Come along, it'll be a blast!

David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars

As part of ACMI’s monumental David Bowie Is exhibition, the literary cabaret Liner Notes will deliver a tribute to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars. One of Melbourne’s best-loved spoken word events, Liner Notes is a song-by-song celebration of a classic album, featuring a stellar line-up of writers, poets, musicians and more exploring their personal connection to a musical legend – and this is unquestionably the year of that glam ham of wham, bam and thank-you-ma’am.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Saturday Paper Portraits

Recent portraits I've written for The Saturday Paper (click title):

Van T. Rudd
There’s an anonymity about artist Van T. Rudd, even in person. Sitting in a cafe in Melbourne’s west, for what will become the first of our many meetings, he’s cloaked in faded comfy-casuals, much like those that adorn his artworks.

“It’s not ‘gallery art’,” he says, running a hand over his thin grey-black ponytail.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

I'm delighted to have appeared on ABC's Lateline last Friday to discuss this week's release of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman (click here to view the episode), and also to have been included in The Sydney Morning Herald's write-up on To Kill A Mockingbird last weekend (click here).

Friday, May 8, 2015

somewhere on your street

somewhere on your street
there is a mother
who kept her children home from school
tuesday of last week
who couldn/t scratch the dollar fifty / each
to send with them
to the stall
who paid a day of education
to erase their shame
who saved them from
comparing empty hands
with flowered flannels / embossed lavender soap
and silver photo frames

Sunday, April 19, 2015

All's Rosie

Six months after our evening at Rotunda, we meet at Carlton’s hip new bar Heartattack and Vine, run by friend and fellow Melbourne writer Emily Bitto, in that six-degrees-of-publication way the City of Literature can often be. 
Simsion smiles a greeting as I pull out a seat. 
“Ask me something penetrating!” he begs hopefully, with the frustration of a man who’s answered one too many Good Housekeeping author quizzes. 

My portrait of bestselling Australian author Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project; The Rosie Effect) appears in this weekend's Saturday Paper. Read the full portrait here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The 'F' Word - in conversation with Roxane Gay

Video from an interview I did with Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist; An Untamed State) at The Wheeler Centre, as part of the 'F Word' series I'm hosting at the centre throughout 2015. Find out more about the event series here.