Reading and writing in 2021


2021 was another difficult year, but one that interspersed bleak blank numbness with the first few stirrings of hope. Hope for the world, but also hope that my ability to think, write and create may (eventually) return.

Fave reads and recommendations

I continued to lean heavily on re-reads, happily-ever-afters and easy fictional distractions to help get me through 2021 – ending the year with one more book under my reading belt than the previous year (with a total of 135, just 12 short of my personal best).

For me, the year’s standout highlight came right at end in the form of Lies Damn Lies by Claire G Coleman.

“History is trying to speak to you. It always has,” Coleman writes in what is quite possibly the best and most beautifully written personal account of ongoing colonisation and the white-out of First Nations history in what we now call Australia. This important book is a comprehensive, accessible, vital and viral call to action. “The war continues,” Coleman reminds us. Pass it on. 

Australian Women Writers

My reading list included 48 books by Australian women writers (36% of my reading total), including posting micro-reviews on Twitter and Instagram for the #AWW2021 challenge.

Highlights for the year included some extraordinary books by some extraordinary pals: The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay (as deeply engaging for its disturbingly impossible-yet-familiar pandemic fiction as its exquisitely crafted delivery), The Airwaves by Jennifer Mills (a unique and beautifully written contemporary ghost story – compelling, unsteadying and insightful) and The Things She Owned by Katherine Tamiko Arguille (a beautifully written multi-generational story about mothers and daughters, families and secrets, punctuated with lino-cut vignettes that make it a beautiful object in itself).

We Need Diverse Books

I read 28 books as part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks challenge (21% of my reading total): “books where people of colour can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where disabled people can be just… people.”

Highlights not already listed above (also predominantly by Australian women writers) include: Growing Up Disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay (by far my favourite of Black Inc’s Growing Up anthologies so far, this extraordinary and important collection is insightful, diverse and brimming with brilliant disabled writers), Show Me Where it Hurts by Kylie Maslen (a deeply insightful and challenging yet easy and enjoyable to read look at invisible illness, pain and pop culture) and My Friend Fox by Heidi Everett (a beautifully metaphoric memoir about surviving the mental health system).

I also loved Good Indian Daughter by Ruhi Lee (an extraordinarily gentle and balanced memoir about how extraordinary events can affect our lives, family and relationships) and No Country Woman by Zoya Patel (an accessible and insightful memoir about identity and (not) belonging, ness and ness-lessness that shines a light on race, feminism, allyship and Australia’s ingrained biases).

And I re-inhaled the first two books in Rainbow Rowell’s magical MM romantic adventure series, Carry On and Wayward Son in preparation for its wonderful conclusion in Anywhere The Wind Blows (not realising how much I needed each of the comeuppances and HEA’s it contained).

Love Oz YA

I also read 16 LoveOzYA books (12% of my reading total). Highlights for the year not already listed above (again, mostly by Aussie women) included: Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (the completely satisfying conclusion to their Aurora Cycle YA space opera trilogy), The Gaps by Leanne Hall (a carefully and beautifully written can’t-read-at-bedtime teen abduction story that credits younger readers with the empathy and emotional intelligence needed to deal with impossible truths) and When Rain Turns to Snow by Jane Godwin (complex and clever Aussie YA about cyber bullying, secrets and finding friends).

2021 in Writing

I received funding from the South Australian Government to publish Our Hybrid Future. This free guide to remote, digital and hybrid working occupied most of my writing year and provided an extraordinary opportunity to work with dozens of extraordinary practitioners all over the country (including dream-team collaborators Bec Sheedy, Ebony Frost and Laurie Steed).

I also published a bunch of articles on accessible and digital work practices, putting people first post COVID-19 and resetting our arts boards (as part of my ongoing arts governance research, which I am thrilled to continue as one of the artists in residence at Bundanon in 2022).

I used editing my poetry manuscript and writing an ode to covid as (I hope) a gateway drug to return to creative writing practice. And I wrote a LOT of strategic plans and policy docs, ran writing workshops for Adelaide Fringe, Guildhouse, Melbourne City of Literature, Writers SA and Writers Victoria, and was commissioned to write (amongst other things) a research paper on artist studios in Adelaide and a catalogue essay for a SA artist I admire.

Happy(?) 2022

Here’s to a new year that is kinder and gentler to us all. I hope it makes some of your reading and writing dreams come true.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance. larsenkeys.com.au

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