Yarraville author Maxine Beneba Clarke has just published her memoir, and has a children’s book due out soon, but she tells Benjamin Millar she still finds time to enjoy nature and her favourite bookshops.
What is your connection with the inner west?
I moved to the inner west about four and a half years ago.
I really like the west because it’s so diverse, after my experience growing up somewhere not so diverse.
I like that my kids are growing up somewhere they have people they see themselves reflected in.
I think there are other places in Melbourne that are diverse, but I also knew there was a vibrant artistic community here, and it’s so close to the city, so it ticked all the boxes.
How has living here influenced your work?
Footscray itself has worked its way into my writing.
I set a lot of my fiction in the west.
I can’t believe the west hasn’t been written about more in Australian writing. It’s just such a unique area to be writing about.
What are your favourite local spots?
I really like it down by the Maribyrnong River, behind Footscray Community Arts Centre.
There is something about being near the water.
I also live quite near Cruickshank Park, a long park that runs through Yarraville.
I like anywhere around the Sun Bookshop, I’m forever in that bookshop, and all my money goes there.
What are your latest writing projects?
As well as my memoir The Hate Race, I have been working on a children’s book The Patchwork Bike with [Yarraville artist] Van Rudd.
It’s been this amazing meeting of minds.
We both have kids around the same age, and we’ve noticed there is not much diverse kids’ writing.
People are hungry for something a little bit different; readers are people looking for a journey.
What inspired you to publish a memoir?
My inspiration is telling the stories that have until now been untold.
What interests me is writing the kind of book that I have never read.
The Hate Race is essentially a memoir about growing up black in Australia in the ’80s and ’90s.
My parents migrated from London to Australia, and it’s essentially a school-yard memoir.
It’s partly a book about bullying and racism, and what happens when everyone is complicit – what kind of person does that turn you into?
Are you more hopeful for kids growing up today?
I see a lot of hope around the arts community and in what I see among my kids’ friends.
They don’t seem to have the same hang-ups that kids whose parents grew up in white Australia may have, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of angst about it.
I have a lot of hope, but it’s still not getting through to the political class.
I feel the election of Pauline Hanson is almost another Brexit, an older generation essentially dictating what is happening in politics.