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SBS Vietnamese had the chance to interview Shirley Le about her passion for writing.
When did you start the career of a professional writer? Tell about your published books?
I started my writing career when I entered an annual local writing competition called ZineWest in 2014. The judge that year was Michael Mohammed Ahmad. I was awarded First Prize and joined the Sweatshop Western Sydney Writers’ Collective afterwards. Since then, I have been working predominantly in short story form or essays. My short stories have been published in The Big Black Thing Chapters 1 and 2. The Big Black Thing: Chapter 2 is being launched on Saturday 5 May at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. My work has also been published on SBS Life, Meanjin, The Griffith Review and The Lifted Brow.
What’s your writing style? What are your objectives in your writings?
I write stories that bring out the truth of what it’s like to live in Australia as a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian woman living in Western Sydney. I like to think that my writing is a bit funny. Other than that, my writing is always very specific in the details.
Does your family encourage you to become a writer? Does your identity/Vietnamese background contribute anything to your writing? Do you face any difficulty to become a writer?
My parents have always known that I liked to read and write and they encouraged me to develop these skills during my childhood. I don’t think they expected that I would be a writer but they understand why I find purpose in this career and they are supportive. My writing is about exploring my identity and so it contributes to every single word I put down on a page.
The main difficulty that I faced in becoming a writer is ‘coming to voice’. In an industry that is dominated by White voices, I had to actively search for writers of colour to find a sense of community and write closely to the truth as possible.
Do you know any other Vietnamese writers in Australia? What do you think about opportunity for Australian-Vietnamese/Vietnamese writers in Australia?
There are many other Vietnamese-Australian writers that I know of. I’m sure many people in the Vietnamese-Australian community already know of Nam Le. Other Vietnamese-Australian writers such as Chi Vu, Hoa Pham and Sheila Pham have been writing for longer than I have. Emerging Vietnamese-Australian voices who I personally know are: Stephen Pham, Lieu-Chi Nguyen, Emma Do and Tien Tran. This is not a conclusive list. For anyone who is interested in learning more about Vietnamese-Australian writers, a quick Google search will provide many more results. I hope that Vietnamese-Australian communities across the country will hear more about their writers and support us in representing our experiences through literature.
Most of the opportunities that I have received have been thanks to my work with Sweatshop.
To be the only one Australian-Vietnamese writer in this Writings’ Festival, do you feel proud? What make you to be invited to this festival? What are you going to do in this festival?
I am not the only Vietnamese-Australian writer at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. My colleague at Sweatshop, Stephen Pham, is also part of the Owning Your Story panel that I will be a part of at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on Sunday 6 May. I believe there are other Vietnamese-Australian writers involved in the festival such as Vivian Pham.
I will be speaking on two panels: Women, Colour and Western Sydney on Saturday 5 May at the Seymour Centre; and Owning Your Story as I mentioned above. Both of these panels feature writers from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Western Sydney.
What do you expect from the Writers’ festival?
I am excited to have open dialogues about race, gender, diversity and writing with amazing writers who I have long admired. I am also looking forward to attending many events at the festival, such as the launch of The Big Black Thing: Chapter 2. The book contains many voices from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and there are many young Vietnamese-Australian writers who have contributed to their work too.