An interview with Larissa Behrendt

by Australian Book Review
July 2021, no. 433

An interview with Larissa Behrendt

by Australian Book Review
July 2021, no. 433
Larissa Behrendt (photograph via ABC)
Larissa Behrendt (photograph via ABC)

Larissa Behrendt is the author of three novels: Home, which won the 2002 David Unaipon Award and the regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book; Legacy, which won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and After Story (2021). She has published numerous books on Indigenous legal issues; her most recent non-fiction book is Finding Eliza: Power and colonial storytelling. She was awarded the 2009 NAIDOC Person of the Year award and 2011 NSW Australian of the Year. She is Distinguished Professor at the Jumbunna Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.


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

The more I travel, the more I appreciate being home. But I often dream of Paris …


What’s your idea of hell?

Not being able to get home to my family – or Sky News on a loop.


What do you consider the most specious virtue?

Bravery. It’s often just not being aware of all the facts.


What’s your favourite film?

So hard to pick just one. Cold War by Paweł Pawlikowski and Calvary by John Michael McDonagh. For documentary, Night Will Fall, a stinging account of the power of storytelling that captures the best and worst of humanity. And Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde. Love a female action hero.


And your favourite book?

Burmese Days by George Orwell – still one of the best novels about the insidiousness of colonisation. The Color Purple was the first book I read by a person of colour and it profoundly changed my world. I marvelled that such a thing existed.


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

Michelle Obama, Aunty Pat Turner, and Dolly Parton.


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

‘Journey’ is overused. And I’d like to see ‘shenanigans’ used more often.


Who is your favourite author?

Tony Birch. Anita Heiss. Alison Whittaker. Ellen van Neerven. Alexis Wright. Melissa Lucashenko. Jane Austen. Charles Dickens. George Orwell. Carol Shields. Virginia Woolf. I could go on …


And your favourite literary hero or heroine?

Mr Knightley. Wonder Woman. I love the cinematic interpretations of Miranda Priestley (The Devil Wears Prada) and Margo Channing (All About Eve).


Which quality do you most admire in a writer?

Empathy. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is essential in telling a truthful and profound story.


Which book influenced you most in your youth?

My father had me read George Orwell at quite a young age. He would test me on it.


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

My parents took me to see Gone With the Wind when I was a child; I loved the clothes and the epic scale. When I read the book as a teenager, it became clear it was a justification of the Klan and incredibly racist. I threw it in the bin, which was a big deal in our house: we had no money, and both my parents had taught us to treasure books.


Do you have a favourite podcast?

I love Rivals – it’s about great rivalries in the music industry. And I’m a sucker for true crime.


What, if anything, impedes your writing?

My cats wanting attention. I can’t say no to their little faces.


How do you find working with editors?

Writing is such a solitary process. I enjoy the engagement with editors. They are all people who love books and authors and every experience I’ve had has been positive. I like that moment when they make a suggestion that shows they know the book as well as I do.


What do you think of writers’ festivals?

I’m quite shy with people I don’t know, so I find the networking a bit overwhelming. Usually I feel more like a reader than a writer. I spend more time lining up to get books signed than signing books.


Are artists valued in our society?

They are in Indigenous culture. They are our great storytellers and holders of our knowledge. They are our greatest thinkers. I wish some other cultures would catch up.


What are you working on now?

A book of essays and plotting my next novel. And a couple of documentaries.

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