Anna Krien is the author of Act of Grace.
What does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism means keeping your eye in. So much of our everyday life is based on assumptions about gender roles, be it in work, politics, education, play or love, and with each stage of your life, these assumptions can take on new and unexpected forms. It takes vigilance to not only question and unpick these supposed foundations, but to also see them. The same thinking, I have to say, goes for feminism itself, which can also fall prey to slogans, one-eyed statements and outrage. For instance, I have great misgivings about carceral feminism which constantly looks to the prison system for solutions. Feminism, I believe, in its highest, most enlightened state, is ultimately about humanism.
Was there a particular moment you can pinpoint that was crucial to the development of your perspective on feminism, and what it means to be a woman writer?
No. I think my feminism is always changing and evolving. As one gets older, you find yourself in new scenarios and witness different ways misogyny and complicity can seep into and influence dynamics. I’m not sure that I think of myself as a ‘woman’ writer – there are often times when I cannot picture the gender of the voices in my head that I’m giving expression to and I’d never value one person’s experience over another simply based on gender. I do, however, juggle the roles of being a mother, lover, friend, daughter and a writer, so this undoubtedly speaks to feminism and my understanding of it.
You are well-known for investigative nonfiction, and Act of Grace is your first novel. How did you go from one mode to the other, and is there any similarity in your methodology?
The first step in both forms is the same for me – a spark of an idea, research, interview, research some more. But then the two forms split – journalism is a balancing act of showing all angles of a story while elucidating a truth that is robust and nuanced. With fiction, you can take a leap – at least initially – over that painstaking and careful process, and allow yourself to dive deep into a subterranean world of your own making.
There is a focus in Act of Grace on Iraqi politics – why did you choose this, and what is the role of global politics in Australian literature?
I had this realisation that the recent Iraq War and Australia’s role in it had not, so far, been reflected in our literature. If you read our national literature alone, you could be forgiven not only for never knowing the Iraq War had happened, but also that it had been our longest running war. I guess this struck me as a challenge but I was also concerned that if we, as writers, didn’t explore these recent chapters of our history, then we may well be accidentally colluding in a convenient amnesia. The political decision to invade Iraq with America in spite of contrary intelligence was incredibly costly, not just in lives lost but in eroded trust in politics; consequences of which – I think – we are still reaping today.
Where did the title of the novel come from, and how does it manifest throughout the novel?
The title refers to payments made by the Australian military in Iraq to victims or families of victims who have been harmed by personnel – such as being caught in crossfire or mistakenly shot at checkpoints. I’d first learned about these payments from an Australian soldier who’d been in Iraq and involved in an incident that was followed up with an act of grace. It struck me, the name in particular for its duplicity, a kind of bureaucratic gaslighting as well as the obvious question, is it even possible to have an act of grace in such a war? The novel is based on an act of grace payment – but also enacts numerous ‘acts of grace’ throughout as characters interact and interrupt one another’s lives, revealing how perceptions of grace can wildly differ.
Which women or non-binary writers do you think everyone should read?
Jamaica Kincaid’s essay A Small Place (1988) is a must for anyone who has ever been a tourist; particularly writers who then attempt to capture their travel ‘experience’ in words. Not a woman or non-binary, but Ocean Vuong’s recent On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an incredibly beautiful and tender work. I have been unable to shake one line ever since I read it earlier this year:
“To be an American boy,” Little Dog says, “and then an American boy with a gun, is to move from one end of a cage to another.”
Vuong’s rendering of masculinity is haunting.