An interview with Anna Clark

by Australian Book Review
January–February 2022, no. 439

An interview with Anna Clark

by Australian Book Review
January–February 2022, no. 439

Anna Clark is the author of Making Australian History (Penguin), a history of Australian history, and has written extensively on history education, historiography, and historical consciousness. She is currently Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney.


If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and why?

The underwater world is my happy, calming place, so I’d have to say a protected marine zone where I can get a glimpse of what Australia’s natural bounty must once have been like everywhere.


What’s your idea of hell?

Blower vacs, loud revving cars, and noisy groups of people (with the possible exception of a crowded footy game at the MCG).


What do you consider the most specious virtue?

The insistence on KPIs. Sometimes you just need kindness, time to think slowly, or even a nap.


What’s your favourite film?

Muriel’s Wedding. I love the mix of camp, poignant, vernacular Australianness.


And your favourite book?

Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, such a rambling story, one that doesn’t avoid life’s sadnesses or fall into the trap of over-sentimentalisation. I liked each of its characters and enjoyed the texture of their lives.


Do you have a favourite podcast?

I really enjoy Conversations on the ABC.


Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine

There are so many, but my dad tops the list. He died when I was twenty-three, and I’d love nothing more than to catch up with him over a beer.


Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?

I feel like such a graceless grump writing this, but when I get an email about another ‘exciting opportunity’, I want to run to the bush, pop a kettle on the campfire, and be as far away as possible. ‘Drongo’, however, is a word I love.


Who is your favourite author?

I am greatly enjoying Hannah Kent, Sigrid Nunez, and Sally Rooney. For my work, I also have a pile of non-fiction I have devoured and keep returning to for content, as well as form: Barbara Taylor, Tom Griffiths, Inga Clendinnen, Helen Garner, Anna Funder, Grace Karskens, Mark McKenna, Svetlana Alexievich, Tara Westover, Janet Malcolm, Maria Tumarkin, and many others …


And your favourite literary hero or heroine?

My mum gave me Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes when I was about ten. I remember being floored by its tragedy. She’s still inside me somewhere, and when I visited Hiroshima a few years ago I left a little paper crane for her at the shrine.


Which quality do you most admire in a writer?

Clarity – writers who want you to understand.


Which book influenced you most in your youth?

Roald Dahl’s Boy. I must have read it at least twenty times. Dahl’s childhood was at once familiar and totally incomprehensible.


Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.

I can’t read things that are bleak or violent anymore. I loved Jude the Obscure and 1984 when I was younger, but there’s no way I could read them now.


What, if anything, impedes your writing?

Although my kids make me happy, parenting is often incompatible with writing. I crave the uninterrupted space to read deeply and write purposefully, even if it’s for an hour.


What qualities do you look for in critics?

I prefer long-form critical essays, where the works are placed in a broader context and in conversation with one another.


How do you find working with editors?

I’ve only had good experiences. Editors have helped me find my voice and guide it towards clarity and coherence.


What do you think of writers’ festivals?

I really enjoy watching authors talk about their craft and method.


Are artists valued in our society?

No, sadly: the humanities and creative arts are so undervalued. But also, yes: there’s always a demand for storytellers to help explain who we are as a society at a point in time, where we have come from, and where we might be going.


What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a book on the history of Australian history, which took about seven years, so I’m only just starting to dip my toe into some new ideas and research projects. In the meantime, I’m also developing a podcast about Australian history for primary students with Clare Wright. It’s a lot of fun, and I hope it sees the light of day sometime!


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