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Zeno Sworder

Author, Illustrator

Zeno Sworder is an award winning writer, artist and picture book maker. He is passionate about literacy, creativity and diversity.

Where were you born?

I was born in a country town named Bendigo. Both of my parents were immigrants; my mother came from China and my father came from England. My mother decided to give birth to me at home but unfortunately I arrived on Christmas Day so the midwife was late and showed up after I was born.

Bendigo had been the centre of a gold rush between 1850 and 1900 which had attracted a large number of Chinese migrants. However, when I was growing up there were only a few Chinese families living in the town. But there was a huge Chinese museum (which is still there) with a beautiful Chinese dragon named Loong, which we would parade through town during the Easter festival.

What other jobs have you had?

I have tried my hand at many, many things. In primary school I washed car windows. In high school I spent my holidays working as a dish washer and waiter. In University I worked as a journalist and spent a year in China teaching English as a second language. I then worked for the Federal Government for a number of years and spent most of that time at the Australian Consulate General in Shanghai as a Senior Visa Officer. I later worked as a tribunal advocate for migrants and refugees. I have also worked as an illustrator, a jewellery designer and telephone volunteer for Lifeline. But I have always felt most myself, sitting alone at a desk with a pencil and a piece of paper making imaginary worlds.

What themes are recurring in your work?

What a fascinating question. Some of the themes and ideas that I explore in my work include interconnectedness, cultural heritage, diversity, ecosystems and the environment.

What have been the highlights of your career?

The most meaningful highlights of my career have been the letters and emails from readers who have thanked me for telling a story that has resonated with them deeply. Making a book can be a lonely exercise that can take years. I spend much of that time wondering if what I am making will connect with readers outside my studio walls. To finally hear from children and parents who not only appreciate the finished work but find it meaningful is a huge joy.

Where have your works been published?

My books have been published in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and South Korea

What are you passionate about?

I believe there are few things more magical than creativity – the ability to take things from your imagination and your heart and put them onto a piece of paper or into a song or dance. It is something that we are born with and freely express as children. It is also something that many of us shy away from as we grow older and become more critical and self-conscious. I am passionate about teaching creativity as a vital form of expression that is not limited by self judgement.

Haven’t I seen you before?

You very well may have. I have a tendency to haunt bookstores around Melbourne and spend much longer browsing than a polite customer should. I am also at the Rose St Artist’s Market in Fitzroy, Melbourne every Saturday and Sunday where I have a stall selling my books and artwork. Drop by and say hello!

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