20 August 2019

Interview with Stella Schools Manager Lenny Robinson

Can you tell us about an Australian woman that has been a role model for you?

While there is no shortage of high profile women to admire in this country, in terms of actual role models I think my life has been more greatly influenced by the women I grew up with. Both my grandmothers were resourceful, kind and wise women who have endowed me with diverse gifts, from a love of reading and writing to a love of nature. My maternal grandmother, especially, taught me a great deal about the importance of remaining defiantly true to who I am while respecting the right of others to do so too. Growing up in the country I encountered many women of great fortitude and courage, and the older I get I realise just how incredible those women were.

Why do you think it’s important that students read and study books written by Australian women?

I really do believe that it is through literature that our vision is enlarged and our circle of empathy is expanded. Humans are empathetic creatures and we are powerfully moved by stories. They can generate joy and grief, motivate us to action and invite us to really see others and their experiences in a way data and rational argument simply can’t. Stories also remind us that we are not alone in the world.  I’m sure most of us recognise the feeling of discovering the words of another who has been able to articulate an experience we have had but have not been able to tell, for one reason or another. We also know that reading stories by women can play an important role in addressing the various evils perpetuated by rigid gender norms by readjusting the narratives of culture. Besides, I think it is important that young people stop receiving the implicit message perpetuated by so many school book lists that only white men write books!

What makes you most excited about joining Stella?

I am hugely excited about being part of an organisation that is devoted to cultural change and to have the opportunity to facilitate change beyond a single classroom. In particular, I am looking forward to exploring how I can get more young people reading the writing of contemporary Australian women.

What is one of your favourite books written by an Australian woman?

That is an extraordinarily difficult question.  I recently read and enjoyed Jenny Ackland’s Stella-shortlisted novel Little Gods, which I thought was a stunning portrait of a young girl coming of age. Last year, when I was still teaching, I taught Maxine Beneba Clarke’s collection of short stories Foreign Soil, which was incredibly rewarding.  Aside from the great writing there was just so much in the collection to generate complex discussions around race and gender. My students loved it and it really drove them to seek out other contemporary Australian writing.  Right now on my bedside table I have Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, which I’m very much looking forward to getting started on.

If you’d like to learn more about Stella’s School Program, or have any further questions, you can reach Lenny at schools@thestellaprize.com.au.

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