Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of poetry collections Gil Scott Heron is on Parole and Nothing Here Needs Fixing. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Award for a Unpublished Manuscript, The SMH Best Young Novelist 2015 and the Indie Book Award For Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for The Stella Prize, The Dobbie Award and the Readings New Australian Writing Award. We caught up with Maxine to talk all things short fiction.
Why do you find short fiction such a compelling creative form?
To me, good short fiction is intensified storytelling – catching that exact moment of revelation, or transitions, or turmoil in a character’s life. There’s a precision that comes with using such a small amount of words: a meticulous architecture. Then too, short fiction allows for such versatility in character and tone and form. You’re able to use structures and create characters which might not be sustainable in a longer work.
Your latest book, Foreign Soil, has garnered some serious love and attention over the last year. Why do you think this short story collection has struck such a cord?
I dearly hope it’s the quality writing as well, but I think Foreign Soil is an extraordinarily timely book. Along with climate change, the mass movement of human beings around the world is proving to be one of humanities greatest challenges. Foreign Soil is a book which peels back the veneer of multiculturalism and globalisation to reveal the hope, anger, triumph and trauma beneath the surface.
What do you see as the key challenges for writers hoping to work in short form fiction?
Despite the recent success of Australian short fiction collections, such as Ellen Van Neervan’s Heat and Light, Ceridwen Dovey’s Only The Animals and Nam Le’s The Boat, there are still a large number of Australian short fiction writers whose work I believe is under appreciated (eg: Tony Birch, Paddy O-Reilly, Nic Low). I think the biggest hurdle for short fiction writers in Australia is overcoming the inexplicable prejudice which still exists against the form. The Miles Franklin Award still does not consider short fiction collections, and they’re often seen, even by other writers, as a ‘lesser art’ than the novel, which makes publishers reluctant to take a financial risk on them, even where they like the work.
Can you share some of your all time favourite works of short fiction?
My all time favourite short fiction collections include African American writer J. California Cooper’s book A Piece of Mine, and One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories (published by New Internationalist, including shorts from Puerto Rico, Botswana, America, Greece, Malaysia, India, Australia and Nigeria). Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Tsiolkas’ Merciless Gods, and I found a story in Australian writer Susan Midalia’s collection Unknown Sky, called ‘The Boy With No Ears’, that I found just exquisite.
Maxine will travel from Melbourne to teach her one-day workshop, Writing Short Fiction, at the NSW Writers’ Centre on Saturday 22 August., 10am-4pm.