1. What’s currently in your ‘to read’ pile?
I’m currently working on my next book – tentatively, and very vaguely, about Australian writers living and working in America, and how the cultural exchange between the two countries both is, and is not, reciprocated – and so I’m reading a lot of Shirley Hazzard, Christina Stead and Robert Hughes; all of whom spent parts of their lives in America. They also all had long careers and there are corners of those which I haven’t explored yet, so the ‘pile’ is kind of out of control at the moment and threatening to tip.
2. What are you reading now?
I’m rereading Peter Polites’ Down The Hume as he’s going to be in conversation with me on my book at an event in Sydney, and I think it’s right to be engaged with your speaking partners work when they are taking the time to read your book and speak to you about it. Besides that moral grandstanding, Peter’s work is so powerfully restless that I’m picking up a lot of stuff that I missed last time, and enjoying it immeasurably. I am also part way through Christina Stead’s Seven Poor Men of Sydney, which could be in a direct, productive dialogue with Peter’s book. It is funny how books you are reading simultaneously can be paired like this.
Seven Poor Men of Sydney was released when in the same few years in which my grandparents were born, and it is electric with a political view of Sydney’s working poor from that era. It’s a righteous book, and could go head to head with anything contemporary being published.
3. Do you have a book that you always find yourself coming back to?
Less so now. I’ve always been a restless reader, and I did spend a good part of my teens and 20s going back to books to try and coax some moral guidance out of them (maybe that was a mistake). Now, I just want to keep getting through a big list of things that I was too lazy and slack to read back then. Having said that, I have a whole chapter in my book about Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift a book that continues to enthrall, bemuse and terrify me in equal measure. It will probably be the last book I ever think about.
4. Do you think your reading influences your writing?
The Rapids is partly a memoir, but only in part. The rest of it is a work of extended literary and cultural criticism. My background is as a cultural critic, so I cannot help but let my reading influence my writing. Sometimes I think, fuck I made this book way too literary and complex, and I should have told the story straight, but it just wouldn’t be possible for me to do that really.
5. Are there any events you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival?
I am excited that a panel dedicated to Balancing Acts: Women in Sport is programmed for the same day as my event, as well as an event later that evening based around the Melbourne-based Rabbit, a journal, which focuses on non-fiction poetry. It’s great to see Brisbane Writers Festival supporting both new and emerging publications and writers. Festivals need to be investing in the future of Australian literature, not always just looking back.