Book of the Month The Hate Race

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s best-selling, award-winning memoir, The Hate Race, has been adapted to the stage. Prior to its premiere in Melbourne, Stella spoke with the Carribbean-Australian writer about The Hate Race adaptation, collaboration and writing poetry for children.

Congratulations on having The Hate Race adapted to the stage! What was the process of adapting your memoir?

Adapting The Hate Race for stage was a really long process. Malthouse Theatre approached me about it almost six years ago, though there were a couple of lockdown years in the middle of the process, where nothing really happened (I always have to note that, to make myself feel better about how long it took!).

The process evolved so many times – from initially setting out to write a more traditional adaptation with a co-writer, to realising that actually, the “truest” way to tell the story, and the way to hold it closest to the book in spirit and atmosphere, might be to depart in storytelling style from a ‘traditional’ play completely. This mean essentially starting the process over after already spending over a year or so on it, envisaging the play as a one-hander, where one actor would conjure all the characters, and a musician would be on stage throughout the piece to propel the story forward and help bring to life the folkloric aspects of the memoir. This is how I’d have it sing … that West Indian way of spinning a tale…

Tell us about your creative process with dramaturg Declan Green and actor Zahra Newman.

The biggest difference between writing a book, and making theatre is the collaborative aspect. Having a dramaturg like Declan, who creates such subversive and vibrant theatre, and being able to work on development with Zahra, who’s worked on so many one person plays (Wake in Fright, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Random) was absolutely instrumental in bringing the piece to life. While I’ve written in almost every genre, I hadn’t written a play before. Their care and patience, while I took way too much time to work out what that looked like for me was superhuman! Zahra being a Jamaican-born actress, and also having read the original audiobook of The Hate Race when it came out meant that she was across the many nuances of Australian/Afro-Caribbean/Black British experience.

There were so many other folks too, who were in and out of various development rooms: musicians, actors, friends, other writers who came and saw readings and gave feedback. It took a village! Watching directors Courtney Stewart and Tariro Mavondo, and musician Kuda Mapeza, and the extended team at Malthouse (lighting designer Rachel Lee, set and costume designer Zoë Rouse, composer and sound designer Dan West and stage manager Jess Keepance) bring The Hate Race to life, and seeing them work their magic to somehow extract something mesmerising and alive out of some words I arranged on a page has been absolutely magical. I feel blessed to have had such a talented and generous team agree to interpret and stage my work.

It’s been great – though sometimes overwhelming – to see The Hate Race create a space in which young people can talk about race and racism, what it means to belong.

03. Clarke, Maxine Beneba BW 2017

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Author

It’s been almost eight years since the publication of The Hate Race. Did you ever imagine the book would become part of the VCE curriculum and would trigger fundamental conversations about race and bullying at school and outside school?

When I was writing The Hate Race, I never thought it would be booklisted and studied in schools. I thought maybe a few hundred people might read it. It’s been great – though sometimes overwhelming – to see it create a space in which young people can talk about race and racism, what it means to “belong”.

If you were to revisit The Hate Race and add new chapters or perhaps a new prologue, what would you include?

I don’t put my mind to what I might change about any of my works. I think you’d drive yourself to distraction as an artist if you constantly thought about that! There are stories from my childhood that have resurfaced that I simply didn’t remember at the time of writing the book, or bits of history that I’ve since learnt, which of course if I knew when I wrote the book may have crept in. But there’s a saying: “Art is never finished, it is just abandoned.” I think I abandoned The Hate Race at a fairly good time.

The Sound of Thing is your latest poetry book (a joy to read at every age). Can you walk us through your creative process for this book and what was on your mind when you were writing it?

It’s the Sound of the Thing: 100 new poems for young people was a direct response to the lack of accessible, contemporary poetry for young people (and also to teachers asking me to recommend poetry for them to teach in the classroom). I remember the joy with which I learn to write limericks and haiku, and rhyming verse and free verse when I was in upper primary school and early high school, and I wanted to try and recreate that love of words and language for young people. There are poems about everything from peanut butter, lollies, bike riding and hating cats, to growing up, having ageing grandparents, getting your phone confiscated, schoolyard crushes and TikTok dances going viral. A favourites box, if you will. I hope there’s something in there for everyone, and that young people find as much joy reading it as I did writing it.

About the Author

Maxine Beneba Clarke The Hate Race

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian poet and writer of Afro-Caribbean descent. She is the ABIA and Indie award-winning author of Carrying the World (2016), Foreign Soil (2017) and The Hate Race (2018). She is the author of five books for children, including the CBCA and Boston Globe/Horn Prize award-winning picture book The Patchwork Bike (2016, illustrated by Van T Rudd), and the critically acclaimed Wide Big World (2018, illustrated by Isobel Knowles). Beneba Clarke is the author-illustrator of two picture books, Fashionista (2019) and When We Say Black Lives Matter (2020). She also illustrated the picture book 11 Words for Love (2022), written by Randa Abdel-Fattah. We Know a Place is the third picture book she has both written and illustrated.

About the Book

The Hate Race is a moving memoir grounded in a tradition of Afro-Caribbean storytelling that recognises the importance of the personal account: “This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for.”

A family of five live in a blonde-brick home. They own a Ford Falcon, love Vegemite on toast, complain about the sweltering heat. The sisters sometimes bicker. Maxine’s life is just like all the other Aussie kids on her street. Except for one glaring, inescapable obvious thing. Read more …

Judges Report

The Hate Race is an important account of growing up in suburban Australia during the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the routines of a suburban childhood will be immediately recognisable to readers, except that the colour of Maxine Beneba Clarke’s skin makes her the target for an astonishing level of discrimination. The combination of a familiar Australian childhood and a world of bullying, ostracism and casual racism is necessarily shocking, transforming this memoir into a significant indictment of cultural complacency. The Hate Race is a moving memoir of national significance, grounded in a tradition of Afro-Caribbean storytelling that recognises the importance of the personal account: “This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for.”

Further Reading

Revisit Brenda Walker’s review of The Hate Race on The Monthly.

Listen to Beneba Clarke talk about The Hate Race in ABC Radio

Read more about The Hate Race at Malthouse Theatre.

Read more about Beneba Clarke’s thoughts about the #writingwhitefemale hashtag for the Wheeler Centre.

Revisit Beneba Clarke’s 2017 Stella Interview.

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