Multi award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke talks to us about what inspired her to write her new book When Black Lives Matter and the books that changed her life.
I’m currently reading . . . The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I really can’t believe I haven’t come around to her work before – she’s a born storyteller. I feel like I know all of her characters personally – like they’re my neighbours, friends or even foes.
I was inspired to write When We Say Black Lives Matter . . . when thinking about how to explain this new global Black civil rights movement to younger children – particularly those in my extended African diaspora family — in a way that captures the sorrow, injustice and atrocities that have been brought down upon Black people in general, but also encapsulates the joy, beauty, hope and resilience of Black people.
I write books for children because . . . I’m writing for a brighter and more equitable future – and because there aren’t enough picture books, particularly in Australia, that centre diverse experiences, or Black protagonists. But quite apart from that, in this increasingly screen-based, fast-paced world, it’s just an absolute joy and privilege to be able to create something slow and beautiful, to be placed into the hands of a small child to engage with and reflect on.
The books that changed my life . . . in terms of realising as a young teen that I might one day be able to become a writer in Australia – Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, and My Place by Sally Morgan. My favourite kids picture book was a book called Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp. It was about a plucky, smart-thinking little Black girl outwitting monsters. That book was also a really pivotal book in terms of realising what kind of books and characters might exist in the picture book space.
I’m currently working on . . . a stage adaptation of my memoir The Hate Race for Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and also developing my short story collection Foreign Soil for Australian television.
Maxine Beneba Clarke is a widely published Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent. Maxine's short fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in numerous publications including Overland, The Age, Meanjin, The Saturday Paper and The Big Issue. Her critically acclaimed short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the ABIA for Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2015 and the 2015 Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Matt Richell Award for New Writing at the 2015 ABIAs and the 2015 Stella Prize. She was also named as one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelists for 2015. Maxine has published three poetry collections including Carrying the World, which won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Poetry 2017 and was shortlisted for the Colin Roderick Award. The Hate Race, a memoir about growing up black in Australia won the NSW Premier's Literary Award Multicultural NSW Award 2017 and was shortlisted for an ABIA, an Indie Award, the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards and Stella Prize. The Patchwork Bike, Maxine's first picture book with Van T. Rudd was a CBCA Honour Book for 2017.