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Open Right

Linda Jaivin

Author, Literary Critic, Social Commentator

Linda Jaivin is one of Australia’s most versatile writers. Her work spans humour, eroticism, social issues (The Infernal Optimist is set in an immigration detention centre), China studies, literary translation and cultural commentary. She has appeared on ABC’s Q & A and was a regular panelist on the now sadly defunct Critical Mass. She presented a three-part radio documentary on the subject of privacy called Nothing to Hide for Radio National’s Earshot program and another, four-part series on the state of arts criticism in Australia, Situation Critical, for Arts Hub.

What other jobs have you had?

I’ve been a journalist, and still write essays for journals like The Monthly. I’m also literary translator from Chinese including film subtitles for movies including Wong Kar Wai’s Grandmaster, Zhang Yimou’s Hero and Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine, and I’ve been an editor, a researcher and a consultant. I teach the occasional creative writing class. And I’m an editorial associate at the Australian National University Centre for China in the World, where I co-edit the China Story Yearbook.

What themes are recurring in your work?

Themes that recur in my work include that of female desire, strength, and confusion; social satire; and marginalisation (a broad theme that includes the voluntary marginalisation of the artist, the de facto marginalisation of the independent single woman and the unwanted marginalisation of the refugee). China is a subject that much of my work deals with, and the setting for two of my novels – as well as the one I’m currently working on.

What have been the highlights of your career?

It was very thrilling when my first novel, Eat Me, became an international bestseller; it’s been translated into something like twelve languages. I felt honoured when The Monkey and the Dragon was named as a ‘notable’ entry by the judges of the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize and The Infernal Optimist made the shortlist for the ASL Gold Medal in 2007. Being awarded UNSW Literary Fellow in 2004 was another highlight, as was the invitation to deliver the prestigious Morrison Lecture at the ANU in 2011. I have worked on an opera in Beijing with a Chinese composer, and that was very exciting, too. I really enjoy broadcasting as well and count as a highlight the two radio documentaries I made for Radio National. I am also constantly thrilled when I get to work on a good Chinese film; it’s very satisfying knowing that my subtitles will be a bridge between the film and foreign audiences. Every so often I get to do travel writing for Qantas’s inflight magazine, and they send me to some pretty fantastic places.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about the importance of creativity in life; about learning foreign languages; about reading and writing; about the importance of art and culture. I’m passionate about seeing young people with creative talent realise their potential. I’m passionate about social justice issues including the treatment of refugees and the need to address climate change.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Books and reading are my passion and have been since I was a young girl. I thought that when I grew up I’d become a librarian and be among books all day – later, I worked out that I could write books, and that seemed like an even better deal!

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