Maxine Beneba Clarke - author of The Hate Race
Tell us about your latest book – what inspired you to write it?
The Hate Race is a memoir about growing up in the Australian suburbs as a black child of migrants post White Australia policy, on colonised land. It's a book about girlhood, race, family, history and identity. I was inspired to write it because I hadn't read anything about the experiences of first generation Australians from African diaspora backgrounds. My childhood was so quintessentially similar to that of my Anglo-Australian friends in so many ways: hot classrooms with whirring fans; Billabong ice blocks; watching Degrassi Junior High and The Wonder years; riding at the BMX track. And yet, it was so very different. I wanted to invite readers to think about this difference and this sameness, and create a space to talk about bullying and unbelonging and national identity and hope. I wanted to write my story - and by extension, those like it - into Australian letters and history.
Which author/s living or dead would you like to have dinner with?
I'd love to have dinner with Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Dave Eggers, Gil Scott Heron, Benjamin Law, Alice Munro, Jamaica Kincaid, Melissa Lucashenko, Richard Wright, Roxane Gay, David Mitchell...oh, the list is endless really. But there would be wonderful food, and fancy wine, and mandatory chair-hopping so I got a chance to speak to everyone.
How and where do you write?
Having two young kids, I used to find I was an anywhere-writer. I would literally scrawl notes wherever I happened to be, on whatever paper-like thing I had around (napkin, shopping docket, newspaper). Since the kids are both at school, I find I'm much more stationary - probably due to having more time, and also a dedicated writing space now. I still do a lot of my note-taking, thinking and conceiving of work on the run though. I often draft on a big whiteboard for short works, or when working onsmall sections of longer works I'm trying to get right. Somehow seeing the words large in front of me allows me to see things I can't on the page - and also to edit more efficiently. I also sometimes use voice recognition software to get quick first drafts down into print.
What was your favourite book as a child?
There are so many books! As a very young child, I loved the book Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake. Another favourite was Liza Lou and The Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer. Then there was Dogger, by Shirley Hughes. As a high school kid, I liked Looking For Alibrandi, and read anything by Robin Klein or Judy Blume.
We know you are a talented writer, do you have any hidden talents?
I make a pretty good meatball, or so I'm told. And not many people can beat me at that board game Balderdash, where you have to make up the meaning of words and convince the other players your meaning is the real one.
Can you tell us what you are working on now?
I'm currently co-writing a stage adaptation of The Hate Race with Melbourne writer and journalist Erik Jensen for Malthouse Theatre's 2018 season. It's been really exciting to work in a new form, and also to be part of a writing collaboration. I originally came from a spoken word background, so after moving through short fiction, a picture book and a memoir, writing for the stage also feels like a homecoming of sorts.