Published 8 March 201012 May 2010 · Main Posts The Monday review – write what you think when you think about Afghanistan Jacinda Woodhead I’ve had this idea about writing lately that just won’t be stilled. Not wholly my idea (as if they exist) and it’s not limited to, though this review focuses on, writing. The idea goes like this: perhaps there is something unhealthy about the state of writing today in Melbourne, in Australia, around the world. Too often it seems our writers, our institutions, our courses and our practices are steeped in introspection, at times, to the neglect of the external world. We are transfixed by the personal, by our own experiences of what it’s like to move through and inhabit this world. Write what you know, we are told. And the only things we know are our experiences and our inner world. Alternatively, we write what no-one knows, as in genre fiction, where the world is imagined. There seems to be an expectation that readers will be captivated by our experiences and interpretations of life in the world because we, as authors, are ‘creative and special and inspired’. If we dare to write outside experience, the writing risks becoming artifice or functional writing; absent of mystery, this writing loses the idea that it is art. I confess, I’m currently a student enrolled in a Melbourne creative writing course. Repeatedly in classes we are told to reflect on our life as a child, on a time we felt happy or wronged, on how we feel about death, on how we felt about death as a child. We are told to explore that feeling and work out in our writing what we’re trying to say, what the world means to us. This is where authenticity in writing comes from, we are told, from an audience seeing the ‘truth’ in the author’s experiences, and appreciating the writerly skill with which they conveyed their joy/ennui/unease. Where is the writing about ideas? Where are those artists engaging in the enormous world around us? Where are the exercises that say, here are four articles taken from today’s paper, all about Afghanistan – because, yes, there is that much happening there right now – read them, then write? As Ted Genoways said in his oft-quoted article, ‘Young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers’. This isn’t a call for a return to works of social realism, or for writing to be devoid of experimentation in content or form. It’s about pausing to read the world around us, and then writing what we think when we think about Afghanistan. Strive for the art, but let this be the starting point. Which is what the following artists did: 1. Van Thanh Rudd’s, ‘Good Morning Afghanistan’. 2. Tom Cho’s Look who’s morphing. One of my favourites of Cho’s stories, ‘Chinese whispers’, isn’t available online so go to your shelf and read it, or go out and purchase a copy. In the meantime, a ‘responsive’ interview with Tom Cho. 3. Any of the stories from Nam Le’s The Boat, especially the title story. 4. Kalinda Ashton’s The danger game. 5. Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Where the streets had a name. 6. And it would be remiss of me not to mention The Wire (again): Boris Kelly’s review from last week and a Believer interview with creator and writer, David Simon. Jacinda Woodhead Jacinda Woodhead is a former editor of Overland and current law student. More by Jacinda Woodhead Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 25 May 202326 May 2023 · Main Posts The ‘Chinese question’ and colonial capitalism in New Gold Mountain Christy Tan SBS’s New Gold Mountain sets out to recover the history of the Gold Rush from the marginalised perspective of Chinese settlers but instead reinforces the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty. Although celebrated for its multilingual script and diverse representation, the mini-TV series ignores how the settlement of Chinese migrants and their recruitment into colonial capitalism consolidates the ongoing displacement of First Nations peoples. First published in Overland Issue 228 15 February 202322 February 2023 · Main Posts Self-translation and bilingual writing as a transnational writer in the age of machine translation Ouyang Yu To cut a long story short, it all boils down to the need to go as far away from oneself as possible before one realizes another need to come back to reclaim what has been lost in the process while tying the knot of the opposite ends and merging them into a new transformation.