Congratulations to Alice Pung, whose exceptional tale of oppression and love ‘One Hundred Days’ has been shortlisted for the 2022 Miles Franklin Award. And a big Thank You to Alice for taking some time to tell us what she loves about books (lingering characters) and Street Libraries (personal dedications). We wish her the best of luck!

If you could put any book in a Street Library, what would it be and why? 

Probably E. H Grombrich’s The Story of Art. I read that book from cover to cover, and it changed the way I saw the world and understood not only art but Western civilisation. Also, it was so easy to read.

What book(s) are you currently reading, and what sorts of things do you look for in a ‘good book’? 

I recently read Vivian Pham’s The Coconut Children and it was phenomenal, a heartbreaking book about what it means to grow up and try and see the extraordinary in the very ordinary miniature of a tough life. I also read Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing, a coming of age book that is also a murder mystery. A good book keeps me turning the pages and the characters linger long after I have finished the story.

Have you come across a Street Library, if so where and what was your experience? 

I’ve come across a few street libraries in local shopping centres, and one in front of a house in Footscray! I think they are wonderful – sometimes people put their discarded ‘bad’ and unreadable books in there (like, for instance a 1987 manual to car maintenance) but even those books can be little gems for authors writing historical fiction. I love the vintage magazines I sometimes find there, as well as any book with a dedication on the inside cover (eg. Dear Tom, happy 11th birthday from GeeGaw and Pops, that sort of thing).

Street Libraries are all about the sharing and discovering of new stories. Can you remember a time where you experienced such a discovery in your own life? What advice would you give on how to continue to pass on such explorations of literature? 

This is a pretty inappropriate story but when I was about eight or nine my mum (who can’t read English) got given a book for free with the vacuum cleaner, and it was Sally Beauman’s Destiny, a bestseller at the time, but one filled with very explicit randy scenes. It was a real page turner for sure, but quite disgusted me until I was thirteen – then it became my favorite book that year. 🙂

What inspired you to become an author? 

I rarely read books about Australians who looked like me, or had lives like mine, so I decided to put people I knew in my stories. As I’ve gotten older, I have become more nuanced about it, but when I was younger it was a real mission to assert my Asian-Australian identity in a culture that liked to cast us as ‘ethnic literature’! I think in earlier interviews, I even proudly played up my working-class ocker accent. Now Australian literature is far more diverse, and so I feel at liberty to write about anything.  

If you could design your own Street Library in any way imaginable, how would it be decorated and why? 

It would be decorated very brightly to draw attention to itself, and also have low shelves for children to pick out books that they want. It would probably include some games and puzzles, as well as plenty of vintage magazines (Dollys and Girlfriends from the 1970s and 80s). A whole row for ‘series’ books like R L Stine and Ann M Martin. Maybe the Sally Beauman books can be on a very high shelf! 🙂