Benjamin Law and me

Hey cHEwY gum gums

If you ask me who my favourite Asian-Australian writer is, it would have to be a tie between Benjamin Law and Alice Pung. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with both of them in my cHEwY journey, as well as hear them speak at many events.

One such moment happened last week, at an Australian Society of Authors (ASA) event, where Benjamin delivered the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture. He spoke about stories in the margins, how his essays, books, TV shows and plays have reached out to so many people who can relate to his journey of belonging and identity. For me, it was his story in the Growing Up Asian in Australia Anthology, where I got my first break.

Before Benjamin spoke, an aspiring Asian-Australian writer in the audience asked me if I knew him. I nodded and told her that we’ve been featured together on a few panels. I scored some cool points with her haha. It was only when I shifted through the archives (aka Facebook photo albums) that I realised just how often we have bumped into each other.

So I’m going to pick five moments that stood out for me.

KSP Centre, Perth, 2013

I was invited to join a festival which was held at the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Wtiters Centre, a writers retreat in Perth. The festival focused on Asian-Australian literature, and I came in as the children’s author. I felt a little out of my depth, surrounded by adult fiction writers. But it was a fun weekend, where Benjamin and Lily Chan, author of Toyo got to know each other, staying in cabins in the middle of nowhere. Benjamin was the guest speaker for the literacy dinner on Saturday, talking about his most recent book, Gaysia and The Family Law.

Brisbane Writers Festival, 2013

Benjamin and I were joined by a little known author, Kevin Kwan, you may have heard of his book…Crazy Rich Asians? Haha yeah, I got to meet him before he was crazy BIG.

This was a fun panel because we got to chat about our Asian characters in our books. We revealed why we were compelled to deliver truth bombs about our culture and upbringing. The whole session time flew by, as the jokes flew thick and fast.

Aussie Writers Week in China, Beijing, 2014

Another priceless opportunity, as I visited Beijing for the first time, as part of the Australian Embassy’s Writers Week. One of the highlights was going to the Australian Embassy to have lunch, fancy indeed. Many jokes, including wanting to take home some plates with the gold Aussie emblem were made, but nobody left with any haha.

Brisbane Writers Festival, 2019

Back in Brisbane, and this time I was interviewed by Benjamin and his co-host Beverley Wang, on Stop Everything! a pop-culture podcast. It was a live recording as part of the festival, and I was joined by YA author Jenna Gulliaume (her debut novel, What I like About Me, is divine). It was probably the easiest festival gig because I got to talk about Pokemon and plush toys. I do this in my sleep haha.

This was closely followed by the second easiest festival gig, where Benjamin and I was on an advice panel with Cal Wilson, Clementine Ford and Bec Mac :-0

Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, Sydney, 2019

Which brings me to last Thursday night. By now, I’ve heard Benjamin speak a lot of times yet, it’s never the same talk. I’ve heard him speak about the Family Law as a memoir, to a successful TV show. Benjamin’s own journey is evolving as he tackles each new project, whether it’s being the editor of Growing Up Queer in Australia or Waltzing the Dragon with his mother on TV. Benjamin is carving out a path that many writers will follow, as a blueprint to succeed as a genuine voice in the creative scene. That’s why I’m always happy to say his name when I talk about current Asian-Australian writers.

If I was ever to write for adults, I would be influenced by Benjamin’s style. Witty. Outspoken. Brazen. He writes with such authority, yet it feels like he’s drawing you into his inner circle on a personal level. I can’t wait to see what he has in store next. And I hope that I’ll keep writing, just so our paths may cross again sometime soon.

O.W