Getting to know the author

  • cultural background
  • family, family history and relationships
  • personal experiences.
Activity one

This activity relates to 8:00–9:40 minutes of the interview.

Clarke muses that one of the seeds for her writing career may have been not being able to read about a character like herself growing up. As a voracious reader, she understood the power of reading and the power of words; looking for texts that related to her experience and giving voice to her life. She has commented that it was ‘as if being written about would help [her] be seen’.

A number of studies show that literature can help people to understand others, better empathise with them and view the world from their perspectives. Drawing on texts from a wide variety of perspectives, with a range of characters and themes can help others to empathise with people who are undergoing troubles different to their own and provide them with guidance on how to respond, or even cope, with a similar issue in their own lives.

Have students write a passage that explores a struggle, event or experience that they or someone they know is facing or has faced. The aim of writing this passage is to give insight to the experience and potentially illuminate the particular moment for someone in a similar situation.
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Activity two

This activity relates to 15:37–17:04 minutes of the interview.

Explaining her interest in migration stories from all countries to Australia, Clarke highlights her experience of ‘othering’ that she and other migrants to Australia have identified.

In literary theory, othering is the depiction of another person or group of people as distinctly different from the mainstream. The tendency is for people to feel stronger allegiances to those who are ‘like them’ and have an easier time identifying and empathising with them, as opposed to rejecting ‘the other’ as inferior and strange. Examples of the ‘other’ are: a different nationality, religion, social class, gender, sexual orientation or origin.

Discuss with your students what the dangers may be of thinking about all people who might be labelled as ‘other’ together in one single group?

  • What harm is likely to be done by ignoring the individual person?
  • How might the process of ‘othering’ contribute to the forming of a positive self-image?
  • Can you think of an example of an ‘other’ in literature you have read/experienced?
  • How have the authors used the concept of otherness in these texts?

After exploring the different representations of the ‘other’ in texts, brainstorm together a list of stories and characters that personify the other. In small groups, have students study images of these characters and their visual portrayal in artwork or on stage/screen. How is their otherness represented through colour or costume?
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Synthesising tasks

At the five-minute mark of the interview, Clarke jokes with Astrid Edwards that the protagonist in the story (Maxine) is more of an anti-hero than a hero.

Have students research the characteristics of an anti-hero. Share what they find with the class. You may like to go further and classify the types of anti-heroes or even explain the differences between villains and anti-heroes to further contextualise your students’ understandings.

Assign students into pairs or small groups and allocate a character from texts students will know or texts you have studied who is an anti-hero. Some examples to start with are:

Have students make up a list of their own anti-heroes from the literature or other texts they have experienced. Create a chart, table or page of Sketchnotes that explains the ‘anti’ components of their characters’ actions, as well as the ‘hero’ components.

Support any comments about the character with specific examples from the text. In dealing with film or video, further evidence could also be used such as reference to camera angles and techniques, colour symbolism or characterisation techniques.

Complete an additional paragraph that evaluates the representation of this character with reference to the following (if applicable).

  • How they help/hinder the representation of the group that is thought of as ‘the other’ in society.
  • How they provide a voice for the ‘unseen’.
  • How the audience is positioned to respond to their character and how they may feel about their actions, moral ambiguity or otherwise.

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The writers’ journey, including:

  • themes, issues and motivations.
Activity three:

This activity relates to 3:36–4:17 minutes of the interview.

Clarke explains that her modus operandi is to tell stories that encourage people to be empathetic. She explains that the catchphrase of racist people, ‘not you, I don’t mean you…’, provided the impetus for The Hate Race and the idea that by stepping into another person’s shoes the reader may learn something about her experience and it may change their view of the world.

Have students visit the websites below to collate information about different immigration stories. They should create a list of reasons why people immigrated to Australia, from which countries they came, as well as highlights and lowlights of their time in transit to Australia and whilst they have been here. The aim is to create a broader picture of the experiences of those who have immigrated to Australia.

Each of these sources aims to create a particular picture of the experience of immigrants to Australia. Students should notice that there are no details in relation to the racism experienced by the people whose stories are featured on these websites, which is contrary to Clarke’s own experiences and those of the people who have reached out to her after the publication of The Hate Race.

As a point of contrast, study the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ‘Racism. It stops with me’ campaign launched in 2013. Go to the website and gather an understanding of the campaign and the supporters of the movement. Watch the videos that aired on television that show standing up to racist behaviour, and go on to discuss the differences between the portrayals of the experiences of migrants who live in Australia.

Using the power of empathy, have your students design a new advertisement for an anti-racism campaign that uses the positive experiences of migrants that they have read about as well as an anti-racist message. Consider cognitive, emotional and compassionate empathy and how each could be employed for this task. You might also consider a more detailed analysis of the advertisements to support students’ understanding – if time allows.
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Synthesising tasks:

Clarke remarks that when writing a memoir, the author is ‘playing with the truth’ when they select which stories to include and to leave out. She refers to her inclusion of a story that doesn’t paint her in a particularly good light. She explains that if she were to be true to her purpose of including all incidents related to race in her life then this story needed to be included.

Have students practise playing with the truth through the retelling of a story that doesn’t paint them in a good light either. Encourage students to think about an incident that reflects badly on their character – it could even be as small as making a rude remark to a shop assistant or lying to a friend. Students should retell the story as if it is a snippet from their own memoir.

Students could then be challenged to rewrite the passage with an effort to portray themselves in a good light. With attention to word choices and tone, students could completely change how the reader feels about the protagonist. This could be continued from multiple perspectives and with different angles each time.
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The writer’s craft, including:

  • Character
  • Voice
  • Point of View
  • Structure
  • Language and style
Activity four:

This activity relates to 6:36–7:30 minutes of the interview.

Clarke explains that one of the main techniques she employed in writing The Hate Race was her attention to crafting the memoir like a work of fiction by fleshing out characters and including details that are not typical of non-fiction texts. This act of storytelling enables the reader to better experience the life of the protagonist and makes the structure of her memoir quite different from the traditional and more episodic style used by other authors.

Work with students to come up with two separate stories in their lives that involve the same people. This may be quite a challenge, so limiting the story to those of family gatherings or of experiences at school might be easier. First, flesh out the stories as two individual events. The second step is to link them together, carrying on the details revealed in the first story and building on the development of character, voice and mood without attention to time that may have lapsed between the two events. The third iteration of the two stories should include references to time passing, indicating that the stories and characters are from two different years, seasons, months, days and so on. As a class, brainstorm ways to signify the passage of time passing. Encourage students to work together to help each other subtly indicate this to their readers.
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Activity five:

This activity relates to 26:17–26:50 minutes of the interview.

Clarke states, ‘once you put a child in the driving seat [as the protagonist] it becomes a completely different story’ and that a child is ‘so much easier to go along with’. Discuss what your class thinks she means by these statements? What is significant about the way a child tells a story that adds meaning to the narrative?

Along with The Hate Race, consider other stories that have children as the narrator or protagonist. Some examples include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Once by Morris Gleitzman, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. Provide your students with excerpts from these texts and have them discuss the specific innocence and naivety of the child protagonists. Compare the experiences of Maxine in The Hate Race to those of children in these other stories. What similarities can be drawn between the child protagonists and how you ‘go along with’ them whilst reading their story?
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Synthesising tasks:

The Hate Race is an intertwining of narrative and history. Clarke confidently tells her story as well as recounts immigration experiences and history. This differs from an historical fiction where historical information is embedded into the story for effect and accuracy, but rather here it stands alone for context in the story.

Using one of the pieces of writing your students have already completed, have them experiment with the method used by Maxine Beneba Clarke – supporting the narrative with the historical. Students should research the time of the event they have written about and aim to add references about the historical period that complement the story. Stories about childhood holidays might be supported by information about airline crashes or record-breaking summer weather and so on. Stories about how their parents met, or where their own families immigrated from could also be told.

Students should remember to select only the relevant information that supports and develops their story. Not all their research will be relevant or necessary to include alongside their episodes.
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Comparison with other writers and texts:

  • other writers using similar approaches or dealing with similar ideas
  • evaluation of the body of work within Australian culture and literature.
Activity six:

This activity relates to 41:08–43:15 minutes of the interview.

Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Clarke describes the Australian literature she was reading as ‘rural fiction or coming of age stories set on the coast’ and notes that most people lived in the suburbs and cities yet there were no stories that mirrored these experiences.

Maxine credits a change in the Australian literature landscape to a number of authors on whom she muses, ‘Imagine if they had been around when I was 15 and was devouring literature’.

Have students select one of the authors listed by Clarke to undertake a comparison. With her assertion, ‘If you read these books alongside each other, you really do get this picture of Australia’ in mind, have students conduct research to ascertain why she may have said this and what specifically she thinks these authors may contribute to the canon of Australian literature. Encourage students to view online articles, reviews of the selected author’s works, biographies, commentary in the media, adaptations of the works, the author’s influences, and personal experiences and background.
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Synthesising tasks:

In her interview, Clarke explains that Looking for Alibrandi and My Place were two texts that she believed ‘cut through the noise’.

Have students write an extended response to the question: In what ways does The Hate Race cut through the white noise in similar fashion to Looking for Alibrandi or My Place?

To prepare students for this task, consider:

  • sharing and reading excerpts from the texts
  • providing context to each of the texts
  • exploring their reception by audiences
  • characterising the significance of each text for the time
  • explaining the idiom ‘cut through the noise’ and what Clarke might mean when she says this.

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Culminating rich assessment task

This task is designed to celebrate Maxine Beneba Clarke’s approach to writing her memoir: the process of honing in on one specific theme that has shaped her upbringing and including only stories, both good and bad, that relate to that theme. In her case, it is the experience of racism and all incidences of racism in her childhood and growing up.

Download Rich Assessment Task (PDF, 131KB).