6 September 2021
Q&A with Deakin Nonfiction Prize judge, Lur Alghurabi
Lur Alghurabi is a previous winner and current judge of the Deakin University Nonfiction Prize. Lur is an Iraqi and Australian writer, poet and playwright, and Co – Director of the National Young Writers Festival. She has been widely published in Australia and the US and is a recent alumna of the Oxford University Master’s in Creative Writing with Distinction.
In the lead up to the prize we sat down with Lur to ask her a few questions about how winning the prize has shaped her career and, how her experience as a writer will influence how she judges submissions.
As a previous winner of this prize, how influential do you think this prize has been in shaping your career?
When I won this prize in 2017, I had just finished university where I worked with student media, but never explored publication outside of campus. In terms of my career, I didn’t even know that a career in writing was an option or how that could ever look. The prize came with a mentorship from Scribe editor David Golding, who was incredibly generous in giving me feedback on my work and insight into what a publisher looks for in a manuscript, and how I can shape my work into a full-length book. The prize’s announcement also opened up opportunities with magazine editors, and I published short essays digitally and in print. I had the opportunity to speak at writers’ festivals and learn from other writers’ practice, craft and experience in the industry.
With each new opportunity, I gained more confidence and knowledge about my career in writing. I realised I wanted to further my studies in writing and I completed a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford, where the prize, and everything it taught me, where huge elements of my application. I’m now co-directing the National Young Writers’ Festival, working on my book, and writing freelance while I juggle a full-time job in communications.
How do you think your perspective and experience as a writer is going to influence how you judge submissions?
I know how much work goes into developing a strong and compelling voice in nonfiction, whether it’s in a personal essay or a journalistic feature. This voice is what sticks with the reader for months or years after reading the work, and commands their attention over longer essays. I’m looking forward to seeing how the entrants present their original voices on the page, how they hold the reader’s interest even if it’s on the niche-est of topics. That takes a lot of originality and a lot of hard work (reading, learning, researching and editing) such that someone could read your work and know it’s yours before seeing your name on the page. I’m really excited about reading the entries and finding work where I can tell there’s been a mammoth effort in crafting these words, but on the page it all looks so seamless and natural.
You’ve previously expressed the importance of documenting your family’s rich story, what advice would you give to young writers worried about capturing all the intricacies of their stories.
Write now and think later. In writing personal stories, we are often faced with the challenge of how we represent the people in our lives, and what’s the right thing to do, how can we avoid conflict or causing harm unintentionally. But these questions, while extremely valid, can be immobilising if they come too early. Write now, put as much as you can down on the page, and then go back with an interrogating lens and evaluate the work’s ethics, value and impact.
Know that there is no absolute version of the truth in creative writing. Like one wise tutor said to me once, ‘if you want to read an accurate account, go look at a train’s timetable. And even that will lie to you.’ How you remember and think of your story is yours, nobody else’s, and it’s important to recognise that memoir and personal essays are extremely personal and subjective. How you write now about one event will vary so much from how you do it in a year, let alone from how someone else would do it. So recognise that subjectivity and work with it. Acknowledge that it’s only one version of the truth. This can take a lot of the pressure off, and it can help you, as you write, to turn inwards and self-interrogate the only character in the story that you have control over.
And most importantly, let writing about real people trigger your exercise in empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand why they do what they do. This will help a great deal in making your writing kind. Your characters have depth, histories and contexts, and it is always great to get insight into some of that as a reader. Let the characters be as intriguing and complex as they deserve.
The Deakin University Nonfiction Prize fosters talented writers aged 30 and under writing longform nonfiction. Entries of up to 3000 words across all nonfiction genres are welcome. This includes memoir, journalism, essay and creative nonfiction.
Entries for the Deakin University Nonfiction prize close at 11:59pm on the 14th of September. Click the link below to enter!