Meet Jessie Tu

Jessie Tu is a writer and journalist based in Sydney. She has written about race, gender and culture in The GuardianThe Age and LA Review of Books. Her debut poetry collection You Should Have Told Me We Have Nothing Left was released in 2018. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is her debut novel.

How are you looking after yourself during this time?

I’m talking to friends on the phone, visiting family, hanging out with my nephews and nieces. I have many friends in the US, Canada, and Melbourne, so we’re often chatting via Zoom or Skype. I’m reading lots of Camille Paglia. And watching a lot of films. And working on my second novel.

Can you speak a little about your creative process while writing?

I sit down and try not to think too much. I just let it all come out, and then edit it later. I find that because I write everyday (journaling), I’m less inclined to critique my own work too harshly. And that’s more than half the battle in writing. You’re always fighting that self-judgement.

Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your art/writing? Are you creating or absorbing, or both?

It has actually. It’s been forcing me to slow down, though, in saying that, I’ve always been someone who likes to take her time with things. I’m often just thinking about what I’ll miss when I’m no longer on this planet, and take time in doing those things. For instance, I know I won’t miss Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, so I’m hardly ever on those platforms. I don’t have thanatophobia (intense fear of one’s own death or the process of dying); it’s that I’m just always aware of my own mortality, and that I actually won’t exist one day. That used to frighten me, and perhaps, once every three months, I’d lose sleep over it. The panic just rises inside me like some volcanic explosion. Now, getting older, I feel so much more like my mortality is a gift, because I am much more in the present, and appreciating the beauty of things, as they come to me. I guess it’s important to realise that beautiful things are always temporary.

What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?

The most important literary forces for me are feminist writers. Female-identifying writers who centre the experience of their gender in their writing. Non-literary force is definitely film. I am absolutely crazy about films. When I write, I’m always thinking about how it would look and feel as a viewer. I don’t necessarily mean I want my books or writing to be turned into a film or something. No. While I was writing Lonely Girl, I couldn’t imagine the face of my central character, perhaps because I just couldn’t envision anyone in Hollywood playing her. I hope this is changing very soon.

Which artists are you most intrigued by at this current point in time?

King Princess. I think she’s just so badass. And her music is so gorgeous.

And, lastly, on a lighter note, what’s your favourite book-to-TV / book-to-movie adaptation? Or is there a book you’d like to see adapted into a TV show / movie?

Into the Wild, hands down. I saw the film before I read Jon Krakauer’s book. I had a huge crush on Emile Hirsch after seeing it. I was actually first struck by the trailer. It was such a beautiful, life-affirming trailer. It’s one of my favourite films, and I spent many, many years during my twenties having cerebral conversations with Chris McCandless, the main character of the story. I know there are two parties to this story: people who think he was selfish and totally irresponsible, and those who idolise them. I am completely in the latter party. I remember talking to my then boyfriend, who was 16 years my senior, and he told me that I’d shift parties once I hit his age and had kids. But I’m now a bit older, and though I’m still not yet a parent, I feel firmly that his life and his story and what he did still speaks to me in profound, unprecedented ways.

I’d like to see Severance by Ling Ma adapted into a film. That book is so, so good.

Don’t miss Jessie Tu in conversation with Alice Pung at MWF Digital.