16 August 2016

Meet the Scribe Nonfiction Prize Shortlist: Ellena Savage

In the lead up to announcing the winner of The 2016 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers, we’re introducing you to every talented young writer on our shortlist.  Read on for more information on their work, writing journeys, and all their tips, tricks and advice for budding young non-fic creators.

ELLENA_SAVAGE_headshotphoto: Ruth O’Leary

Ellena Savage – Blueberries

Age: 28

How did you begin writing? I thought I would be a poet when I started writing but my poetry was too polemical to be any good, so I shifted to essays. I think I was about twenty when I committed myself to ‘being a writer’ even though at that point I don’t think my work showed much potential. It was just very apparent that, for me, writing was the axis around which everything else in life happened.

What’s your favourite work of nonfiction? There are many. One book I have been thinking of daily, lately, is Hilton Als’ The Women. I mean I recommend everything Als has written to any sort of reader but this book in particular is so savage in its composure, so charged it might split your skin open. I really admire it. I’ve only just read Svetlana Alexievich for the first time, I read her Voices from Chernobyl and I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep living after that. I plan to read more of her work but will need to recharge a bit before I do. I’ve also spent a lot of time with Gertrude Stein this year, which has brought me great pleasure.

Why do you write nonfiction? I like that ‘nonfiction’ just means documenting time and space as a body perceives it. When I write it I don’t feel beholden to a particular canon or style. I also write some fiction and experiment with writing for performance, but perhaps with less success.

Tell us a bit about your submission to the Scribe Prize… ‘Blueberries’ is a polemic about gender, art, and institutions. It uses repetition and plays with the relationship between the body and the text. In a grant application I might say it’s about women and knowledge, which is true, but more honestly it’s an attempt to voice my anger at so many aspects of the culture industry, and how confused and confronted I feel at my own complicity in it.

Why did you choose to write it? I didn’t really choose to write this particular piece, the early draft unfolded from my body in a very natural way. Of course expanding and refining it was less pleasurable and less natural, and I think the reason I pursued it after many failures was because my supervisor Melinda Harvey encouraged me to keep pushing it. I’m very lucky to have that kind of support.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And the worst? I just read a Paris Review interview with James Baldwin where he says this thing about writing, as opposed to speaking, he says the process of writing is about finding out what you don’t want to know. And that’s instructive and absolutely correct. I think trying find a voice without prefiguring a ‘reader’ or publishing outcome can be tormenting because in that process you become very exposed and vulnerable to your own cruelties and inconsistencies.

What piece of work, published or unpublished, are you most proud of? I don’t know that I’ve made anything I can feel proud of yet, but ‘Blueberries’ probably comes the closest to doing what I want to do with words.