Friday, December 19, 2014

The Saturday Paper

My Portrait 'Doorstopping Saint Nick' will appear in the last edition of The Saturday Paper tomorrow for 2014, along with writing by Tim Winton and Christos Tsiolkas.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bigotry in Australia

The ABC's Big Ideas recently screened the discussion Melbourne writer Alice Pung and I had on bigotry in Australia at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Alice's talk, and our following discussion, can be viewed below. The discussion is hosted by Nick Feik, the editor of The Monthly.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Publication in Reykjavic, Iceland.

Reykjavic (Iceland) UNESCO City of Literature has published my short story David from my collection Foreign Soil on their blog as part of a series showcasing the work of writers from other UNESCO Cities of Literature. Click here to read the (English) text of the story.


Maxine Beneba ClarkeÍ tilefni Lestrarhátíðar í Bókmenntaborg 2014 – Tími fyrir sögu birtum við smásögur frá Bókmenntaborgum UNESCO.
Sagan frá Bókmenntaborginni Melbourne í Ástralíu er eftir Maxine Beneba Clarke. Hún er úr bókinni Foreign Soil, sem kom út í Melbourne núna í ár, 2014. Sagan er birt hér með góðfúslegu leyfi höfundar og kunnum við Maxine Beneba Clarke bestu þakkir fyrir.


Maxine Beneba Clarke er ástralskur rithöfundur og ljóðaslammari af afrísk-karabískum uppruna. Hún hefur sent frá sér ljóðabækurnar Gil Scott Heron is on Parole (Picaro Press, 2009) og Nothing Here Needs Fixing (Picaro Press, 2013). Fyrsta prósabók hennar, smásagnasafnið Foreign Soil hlaut Victorian Premier’s verðlaunin 2013 fyrir óútgefið handrit. Hún er um þessar mundir að vinna að minningabókinni The Hate Race, sem fjallar um þá reynslu að alast upp svört í hvítu millistéttarumhverfi í Ástralíu. Clarke fékk Hazel Rowley styrk til að vinna að bókinni.
Nánari upplýsingar um Clarke og verk hennar er að finna á vefsíðu hennar.
- See more at:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Random Links

The Australian Book Review included Foreign Soil in their Top Books of 2014 here.

My personal essay on middle class racism, published by Right Now went a little bit viral here.

I'll be teaching the Writers Victoria Short Fiction class next year. Bookings here.

Recently profiled Media Watch's Paul Barry for The Saturday Paper here.

The Sydney Morning Herald included Foreign Soil in their Top Ten Books of 2014  here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

boxing day

boxing day comes quiet

a child was born
in bethlehem
beneath a star

but a childhood died

wise men brought
& gold

for a boy
who had not
opened his eyes

but did they 
gather that young girl in their arms
& whisper hush my darling
it's okay to cry
you are not alone

a scared child
carried a god's fire in her belly

without a choice

watched a young man she
raised as her own
murdered on a cross
& crowned
with thorns

on boxing day
i think
about mary

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On Booksellers

Chris Page, from Pages & Pages Booksellers in Mosman, recently named Foreign Soil as her "single book from this year that had the most impact" on 702 ABC Drive's Annual Bookseller Forum. This mention, in this category, for me, has been the most important achievement of this year for Foreign Soil.

Good writing or not, there is no way this book of short fiction would have moved from shelves across Australia the way it has if it weren't for booksellers hand-selling it to people who wouldn't normally buy it.

Foreign Soil is a hard sell, particularly in the Australian market: a politically charged book set in eight different countries, written in different accents and dialects. A book that is not easy to read, or funny, or quirky, or feel-good, a book which contains domestic violence, transgender characters, racism, detention centres and child soldiers. A book of primarily black characters. This is not the kind of read most people walk into a store in Australia looking for. Add to that, the fact that short story collections are notoriously almost-impossible to sell in Australia.

At the start of the year, a staff member at Readings, a local independent book chain in Melbourne, told me "We love your book and we will hand-sell it for you and do whatever we have to do to get it off the shelf." Martin Shaw, Readings book buyer, told me about an instance in which a customer was choosing between Foreign Soil and another title. He said they'd bought the other title, and though he himself loved both of the books equally, he felt they chose the other because he hadn't yet perfected his Foreign Soil pitch. I remember being struck - overwhelmed even - by his utter conviction that this was a book Australian readers should read, and that he would sharpen his pitch until they were buying and reading it.

In 2014, Foreign Soil Book Clubs were held across Australia, by The Sun Bookshop, Oscar & Friends, Pages & Pages, Avid Reader, Gleebooks, Mary Who? and many other stores. Potts Point Bookshop and Booktopia filmed author talks to help promote the book through their online book channels. Many other stores - too many to name - welcomed the book with arranged author signings.

Christopher Sims, who works at my publisher, Hachette Australia, told me a story really early on about seeing a rather well built treadmill user in his gym reading Foreign Soil while running. When he approached and asked the man what made him buy the book, he said the woman at his local bookstore in Newtown had told him he had to read it.

On National Bookshop Day, an employee at The Sydney Story Factory emailed me to say he'd gone into his local bookstore, Better Read Than Dead, and asked them to recommend a book. They pointed him toward Foreign Soil.

At my local bookstore, The Sun Bookshop in Yarraville, in the lead-up to their Foreign Soil Bookclub, one of their entire windows was taken up with copies of Foreign Soil.

All this for a book I was told for years, and had almost come to believe, would never see the light of day.

I am moved by the way Australian booksellers fell in love with Foreign Soil - and incredibly lucky they did.

So thank you. Thank you to everyone who's helped push this book, and even if you detest this book - thank you to everyone who sells, and hand sells, the books of Australian authors. Thank you especially to those who encourage customers to read something they might not ordinarily take a chance on.

Writers cannot, and do not, underestimate the incredible work that you do getting our words into readers hands, homes, and hearts.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

even if it gets to 104 degrees

if your friends wanna play with water
down there in the park
i dont care how hot it is
even if it gets to 104 degrees
the moment they get out them
plastic squirters an start fillin up
at that fountain just run
don’t even stop to explain just you
turn around an run all the way
home to me
black boys got shot for less
i want you to listen see
if your car breaks down
even in the middle
of the motorway
just leave it there baby
it aint nothin but
a lump of clever metal anyway
or if you love the car too much
to let it go then you an your friends
you push it over to the side of the road
push it all the way on home
if you have to
it dont matter how your knees
feel like they gon buckle
or how people on the sidewalk
lookin at you funny
stares dont kill
stares dont kill you hear me
dont never flag another car
down for help dont you never
flag no other car down
black boys been shot for less
i want you comin home every single
night baby
an if you ever runnin home
from water pistols at the park
or from leavin some car
that just broke down on you
if you ever runnin home
an somebody yell stop
for the love of jesus just stop
stop an put your hands in the air
stop an put your hands in the air
an get down on your knees an
dont make no sudden movements
an baby you even got to say yes sir
an no sir or better still yes officer
an no officer even if you don’t mean it
yes even if he got a gun pointed right at you
especially if he got a gun
pointed right at you
do you hear me
do you hear me
i dont care how hot it is
even if it gets to 104 degrees
you come back home to me

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Readings New Australian Writing Award

Congratulations to Ceridwen Dovey, for winning the 2015 Readings New Australian Writing Award for her book Only The Animals. I feel honored to have been one of the six writers on the shortlist. It was really great to meet Ceridwen at Readings award announcement event at their St Kilda store a few weeks ago. Martin Shaw, Readings Books Division Manager, has written about the award over at The Guardian. He and co-judge Hannah Kent had some lovely words to say about Foreign Soil:

'...Sarah Churchwell, a judge of this year’s Booker prize, divulged the other day that her jury were mad keen on both the Flanagan and Ali Smith’s How to be Both in their final judging rounds.
So in that confessional spirit I’d like to think that if the Readings jury had had the conversation about a second-place getter for our prize, it might have been Maxine Beneba Clarke for her story collection Foreign Soil. I think judge Hannah Kent puts it perfectly: “Foreign Soil is a collection of outstanding literary quality and promise. Clarke is a confident and highly-skilled writer, and it is her political vision, her ability to create poignancy without sentimentality, and in her restraint and understanding of form that makes this collection exceptional. Moving and honest, this is a dauntless and necessary new voice in Australian literature...” '

Read more here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Hazel Rowley & The Hate Race

Four months before my first fiction book Foreign Soil was due to come out, snowed under with copy edits, I saw a call-out for applications for the 2014 Hazel Rowley Fellowship. The Fellowship, I read, was closing for applications in a few days, and would go to support travel and research for a significant Australian work of biography. Judges were interested in bold, risk-taking, adventurous work: the kind of projects Hazel Rowley herself had favoured. Alongside copy editing for Foreign Soil, I was also busy working on my memoir, The Hate Race, a book about growing up black in white, middle class Australia. The Hate Race tells the story of my life, through the lens of race, dating from 1976 when, one year after the final vestiges of the White Australia Policy were dismantled by Gough Whitlam, my parents arrived in suburban Sydney, to the present.

Read more over at Writers Victoria

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Disrupted Festival of Ideas

I'm thrilled to be in Perth at the moment for the Disrupted Festival of Ideas. Today I'll be participating in a live writing event called Memory Makes Us, with IF:BOOK Australia. I'll be weaving the public's memories of harmony and rhythm into poetry, which will unfold live on screen. You can come and visit me at the festival to submit your memories the old fashioned way on a typewriter, tweet them (#memorymakesus), or submit them online here.

Tomorrow I'll appear on the panel Dangerous Speech, and perform some slam poetry to close the weekend. Details for this free discussion are here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

i is the revolution

your transaction has been processed by paypal
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item: revolution
number of items: 1
cost: $AUD priceless
the revolution thanks you for choosing itself
the revolution is downloading onto your ipad
& being transferred onto your iphone
it is an irevolution
the revolution is i
i is the revolution
the revolution is available in e-book form
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the revolution comes in 4 short podcasts
that can be worn as a USB bracelet
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you must follow the revolution
it will be abbreviated to fit its own twitter feed:
the revolution will drop all vowels / capital letters & apostrophes
& present itself in short profundities of 140 characters or less
join @the revolution as it LOLs and WTFs
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the mo fo moves in
& takes over cyberspace
dig the revolution
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the revolution’s RSS feed will bitch-slap your inbox
every night at around about 12 o/clock
do not reply to the revolution
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the revolution is not spam
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you cannot RTS the revolution:
the revolution is anonymous
the revolution lives nowhere
the revolution is every return address
forward the revolution to everyone you know:
the revolution is a virus no norton has an anti for
infection is the revolution/s cure
befriend the revolution
graffiti the revolution/s wall
the revolution invites all 500 million fans
to the facebook event of itself
rsvp to the revolution/s event
it is the revolution / show yourself attending
the revolution will remind you of itself by SMS
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bt you can forward the revolution on by text
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type: revolution
into your GPS
give the revolution it/s own ringtone
do not turn the revolution off
the revolution must be able to reach you at all times
& at full volume
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the revolution does not exist in second life
download the revolution/s soundtrack from myspace
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i is the revolution
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the revolution has just been blogged

Thursday, October 23, 2014

we want poetry back

the messengers had children
the messengers had children
oh / greying guards at
the gates of lyric / saying
not on my watch
sonnets trained on the horizon
that’s right / the messengers had children

oh / old white men
who shot the messengers
& those (some come even
coloured or with breasts)
who bow to same

oh / you who killed poetry
marched pentameter poised across
the slaying fields of tongue
is a new dawn
the messengers had children
& the street poets have come
is a new dawn
the messengers had children
& those children have guns
is a new dawn
the messengers children have
become the messengers
& we / the messengers
want blood

you who guarded lined scrolls
& metaphored our distant dots with
squinting iambic eyes
but forgot to look (& after all
what kind of poet can’t see behind him?)
& while you slept we scaled
back fences / braved body rot
& still twitching casualties in
a beat battalion tip-toe
across forbearers screaming bones

oh / old white men & those
(some come even come young
coloured or with breasts)
who bow to same
we want poetry back / we
are the children you
left wailing / without a backward glance
oh / but when you cut down word
the roots undergrounded
& grew

& oh /real poets / you did not think to drown
the messengers children
did you?

This poem is from my collection Gil Scott Heron is on Parole (Picaro Press, 2009).