Wai Chim, author of 2017 CBCA Notable book, Freedom Swimmer and the Chook Chook Series for children, talks to WestWords’ producer Michelle Rickerby and shares her thoughts on being a writer, working with western Sydney kids and The Boundless Festival.
On being a writer
It’s been really rewarding to write the types of stories that I do write and to write from my Chinese/Asian background and experience. These stories need to be out there and it’s great to see that audiences are clamouring for them through movements like #ownvoices and to see the industry at least starting to listen. I hope to see the spectrum of diverse stories and voices continue to grow.
On working with students around Western Sydney
I’ve worked with different schools and organisations but I love working with an organisation like Westwords that brings the focus of writing and storytelling to Western Sydney and beyond. Everyone needs the opportunity and the resources to nurture writing development, but not every family, school, community or system has the same access to these resources.
I’m always especially excited to work with young people who haven’t really been exposed to a more traditional ‘writing program’ before. They have such fresh ideas and perspectives on storytelling and come up with amazing new approaches.
On being part of the first-ever festival focused on Indigenous and culturally diverse Aus writers and writing.
This is so exciting and we need to see more of them! As a young child growing up, I wanted to see myself in stories, to find books and works that reflected my experiences, but they were few and far between. By highlighting works of diverse writers from diverse backgrounds, who bring new and different perspectives, we’re opening up new audiences and forging the path for new stories and fresh approaches – and that’s going to be the most exciting thing about the future of literature.
On who gets to tell which stories?
I am a firm believer that anyone can write any story they want to – and they should!
What I think is important for us as a society to recognise is that people have very strong emotional responses when they’re feeling their stories have been appropriated. We need to recognise and acknowledge these feelings of hurt and anger because they come from a very legitimate place – our history is littered with examples where groups have been marginalised, mistreated and silenced and we can’t forget that – and it’s from our history and our past misgivings that these strong emotions of hurt and outrage come from – for me, it’s really not about policing the writing. I think those who make it about that particular issue (Lionel Shriver, I’m looking at you!) are missing the point. What we need to do as a society is to recognise these deep seated emotions of pain and outrage, know where they come from and why they are there and consider how we can move towards a better place. This is where #ownvoices is so great – it’s the positive response to the concept of cultural appropriation. Instead of trying to police or censor who can or can’t write which stories, we’re moving to push forwards and champion new and exciting voices and bring them to the table where they may not have sat before.
And I genuinely believe we’re really moving towards that – hence Boundless! Festivals like Boundless and programs like Westwords help new diverse voices learn and navigate the unfamiliar waters of writing, ‘narrative’, audience, publishing and everything else that comes in this space.