Meet Shirley Le

In our first feature about our new commission 5+5, Thom caught up with writer and Sweatshop member Shirley Le.

Thom (TS): How did you first get in to writing?
Shirley (SL): I studied writing at university and originally wanted to be a journalist. The units on creative writing ended up being more interesting to me. In 2014, I submitted a story to a local writing competition ‘ZineWest’ and Dr Mohammed Ahmad, Director and Founder of Sweatshop was the judge. I was awarded First Prize and joined Sweatshop from then on. That’s when I really started to see that being a writer was possible for a woman of colour like me.

TS: What’s the driving force behind your work? Are there any issues or ideas or forms that you like to explore in your writing?
SL: My art is a way of exploring where I fit into the world around me as a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian woman. The driving force behind my work is creating something that speaks to my community and makes people like me feel less alone in their experiences.

TS: 5 + 5 is a bit of a collaborative writing experiment, bringing together five different voices to co-author a new script. Is the idea of working with other people on one project daunting? Or is it a nice change from the ‘solitary writer’ kind of stereotype?
SL: I’ve worked with other writers on projects before and I’m always honoured to work alongside Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse writers. Feeling isolated as a writer of colour wasn’t great for my writing practice and it left me feeling uninspired at times. When I came to Sweatshop, I felt like I went through an important process of ‘coming to voice’.

TS: Whose writing do you really admire? Who are your main influences?
SL: I read The Big Black Thing Chapters 1 and 2 for inspiration. Those books contain stories from young people in Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse communities across Australia. Reading those books make me feel at home and motivated to keep going.

TS: What is a conversation Australia needs to have right now?
SL: Australia needs to get comfortable talking about racism that goes beyond old folks screaming on a bus.

5 + 5 will be written throughout 2018 ready for development and presentation by 2020.

Performing Lines is working with Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement, with support from Playwriting Australia.

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