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Five minutes with: Sarah Krasnostein

HerCanberra Team

Sarah Krasnostein was born in America, studied in Melbourne and has lived and worked in both countries.

Earning her doctorate in criminal law, she is a law lecturer and researcher. Her essay, ‘The Secret Life of a Crime Scene Cleaner’, was published on Longreads and listed in Narratively’s Top 10 Stories for 2014 which was then turned into her first book, The Trauma Cleaner. A breakout book of 2017, The Trauma Cleaner made numerous ‘best of’ lists, being taken up by book clubs across the country, and was long-listed for the 2018 Indie Book Award for Non-Fiction. More recently, it was recently shortlisted for Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

We chatted to Sarah ahead of her appearance at Muse Bookstore on Sunday 25 February.

Why do you feel it’s important to tell everyday women’s extraordinary stories, as you have in The Trauma Cleaner? What are the responsibilities of telling someone else’s story?

I’m not very interested in writing about famous people (and, looking at my bookshelf, it seems I’m not very interested in reading about them). Fairly or otherwise, they seem to come pre-packaged. I’m more curious about meeting someone entirely new to me and finding, in that unknown quantity, elements of familiarity. Or finding something startling about someone who at first seemed familiar, in the sense of being “everyday”. Those elements of similarity and difference in our shared humanity are endlessly beautiful and terrifying to me.

Beyond the fact that I’m just magnetically drawn to these “everyday” stories, on a conscious level I do feel strongly that they are important to tell. My first year of law school, I read The Hidden Gender of the Law by Jenny Morgan and Regina Graycar and it was a wakeup call to the fact that facially-neutral laws and norms do not have substantively equal impacts. The lived experience of women in general, and different types of women in particular, remains functionally unequal despite structural changes to improve the fairness of the rules which govern our society. I enjoy writing about that from a legal perspective, but if I can write creatively about daily life –  how that point is personified by someone we can all relate to – I might be able to reach more people.

I think the greatest responsibilities in telling someone else’s story are those of amplification, empathy, accuracy and honesty. You try to balance them as well as you can, using any skill you may possess to amplify the voice of your subject and to accurately convey the context for their actions. Here – far from polluting the narrative – your empathic resources are as important as the more conventional research tools. And, in terms of honesty, you try to retain self-consciousness about the ways in which your own perspective colours the narrative, and keep your reader informed of what you’re doing.

Which women or non-binary writers do you think everyone should read?

Recently we’ve seen just how many people are surprised by the prevalence of sexual violence against women and children in our society. The mainstream acknowledgement of the scope of the problem, its collateral consequences and the way in which a vast number of women are made especially vulnerable due to the confluence of gender, race, sexuality and socio-economic inequality is still embryonic. So I reckon most people could probably benefit from a reading list that included Maxine Beneba Clarke’s exquisite The Hate Race, Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, Celeste Liddle’s opinion pieces and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins.

Zadie Smith once said that if we limit our understanding of literature to books alone, important voices will be lost. The MCs Princess Nokia and Ana Tijoux and Siya are important writers. We have to look to other forms as well: Zoe Coombs Marr is an important writer, Rachel Perkins is an important writer.

What piece of writing advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s not about doing all the research and then neatly writing everything up. The writing is the thinking. It’s going to get messy; this is a sign you’re on the right track. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.

Sarah Krasnostein will appear at Muse Bookstore on Sunday 25 February from 3-4 pm in conversation with Muse’s own Nikki Anderson. Tickets are $12 and include a complimentary glass of house wine or soft drink.

Find more information and purchase your tickets here.

First published on the Feminist Writers Festival blog.

Feature image: Gina Milicia

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Sometimes a story is bigger than one person...that's when the HerCanberra Team puts its collective head together to come up with the goods. Enjoy! More about the Author