Artists from Boundless reflect on the writers who have had a profound influence on their lives.
I was in Year 8 when I borrowed Zadie Smith’s White Teeth from Auburn Library. I was learning how to read ‘serious literature’ by working my way through a list I found on the internet of 1000 books I had to read before I died.
The humour and life in White Teeth winked at me like I was an insider. The north-west London Smith describes was more familiar than stories set in my own country.
The white boys at the beach of Tim Winton and the white girls at the beach of Puberty Blues were foreign to my life in south-west Sydney.
Smith wrote about people and places that resembled the people and places I knew and these stories were respected as literature.
They were so respected that everyone had to read them before they died. This discovery started a new reading life for me.
After that, I stopped forcing myself to struggle through famous old books about grapes and whales. I read every book Smith put out instead.
I understand Zadie Smith’s work, I thought, and Zadie Smith’s work
is literature. This means I have the capacity to understand literature. And if I have the capacity to understand literature, I might have the capacity to write it, too.
Janette Chen is a Chinese–Australian writer from Lidcombe. She is a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. In 2019, she participated in Carnival of the Bold’s Citizen Writes program. She will be appearing on the SWEATSHOP WOMEN panel at Boundless.