Book Club / Culture

Nakkiah Lui on Sylvia Plath and the books that impacted her life growing up

A writer of searing wit, and a captivating performer, Nakkiah Lui is reshaping the Australian cultural landscape. Beyond her captivating presence that graces our screens and stages, she's a prominent voice in Australian arts and culture, pushing boundaries and inspiring conversations through her writing and performances.

A confirmed bibliophile, her bookshelf succumbs to boast a delightfully eclectic collection. From the contemporary pieces of Emma Cline's The Guest and Brandon Taylor's The Late Americans, Lui revels in the power of a well-spun tale. But it's the stories that challenge and transform that truly enthrals Lui. Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita revolutionised her understanding of language, while the raw exploration of humanity in Christos Tsiolkas' Loaded ignited a spark.

A writer herself, Lui knows the power a novel holds. It's an intimate journey that fosters empathy, even for characters you wouldn't normally relate to. As you turn the pages, you discover yourself alongside them. For Lui, it was acknowledging the feelings of isolated sadness in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar to literary character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho teaching her to feel anger at hypocrisy. Lui highlights the poignancy of a books ability to make us feel joy, sorrow, anger, and everything in between. By experiencing these emotions alongside the characters, we develop empathy and gain a new perspective on life, enriching our own emotional landscape.

Below, we speak with Nakkiah Lui in depth on the sheer power of a novel, alongside some of her favourite books she's read.

 

The last book I read …

I’m going to cheat here because I binged both of these in a week and absolutely adored them both: The Guest by Emma Cline and The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor

 

On my bedside table: I am currently reading …

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. I was very excited to read this because Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s collection of short stories, Friday Black, blew my mind and their debut novel is not disappointing!

 

My favourite book of all time …

Every year I comfort read The Secret History by Donna Tart.

 

The literary character I most identify with is …

The wonderful thing about novels is how their intimacy can take you on journeys of such deep empathy with characters you don’t necessarily identify with but you feel them, you discover yourself as your turn the pages. In that way, they become parts of me as I read them, from Sylvia Plath’s Esther in The Bell Jar allowed me acknowledge my own isolated sadness when I was 18 and felt so lost in the world, not knowing my own writing could change that, the yuppie pyscho Patrick Bateman let me feel anger at hypocrisy, the horny angst of Ari in Christos Tsiolkas’ LOADED was my own coming of age. I could go on and on… and on.

 

The book that changed my life is …

I borrowed Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov from the library when I was far too young (also never retuned it). Despite how we now classify the content, my perception of language and it’s potential was revolutionised by the lush, poetic and transgressive prose.

 

The best book I ever received is…

My mum gave me Black Chicks Talking by Leah Purcell when I was a young teenager. It’s a series of portraits and interviews with some of the most remarkable First Nations women (including the iconic Leah Purcell). I was in awe reading their words. Because of these women, I started to think that maybe there was a place in the world for me too, and maybe my dreams could come true.

 

The book I would give as a gift is …

All About Love by Bell Hooks.

 

Growing up, the best book on my bookshelf was …

Life Studies, a collection of poems by Robert Lowell, that an english teacher gave me. He thought I would it enjoy based on some work I had submitted that term. It was his copy, with delicate earmarks and slightly yellowed sides, clearly well read with care. It was my first exposure to confessional poetry and I absolutely loved it. That my teacher not only passed it on to me because he thought I would enjoy it, but so generously gave me something he also loved, meant the world.

 

The Australian writer I admire the most is….

Christos Tsiolkas and Suzie Miller. I am obsessed with Christos - to the point I have actively avoided ever meeting him - everything he has ever written, I have devoured. Suzie is one of our greatest minds and writers, so gifted and everything she shares with the world makes it a better place.

 

My favourite living author is …

Far too many to name. Seriously, you’re gonna make me answer this? All the people above that are alive, obviously. But… because I have to answer this, I’m going to name some writers that just come to my head randomly, in no order, and they are ALL incredible: Raven Lelani, Tommy Orange, Ellen Van Neeran.

 

A book everyone should read at least once is…

Anything by Toni Morrison.

 

 

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