If you’re Australian, you’re probably familiar with Linda Jackson — the artist and fashion designer who, together with best friend Jenny Kee, helped dissolve the notion of Australia as a cultural backwater via outfits that spoke to the psychedelic shapes and dazzling shades of the bush. I grew up reading about her (and about a glittery, permissive Sydney, a world away from the city’s current reality) so it was a pleasure to meet and interview her about her life and art for the cover of new magazine Broad. You can read my profile here.
Was a pleasure to speak about writing and pitching meaningful thinkpieces and cultural criticism at the Emerging Writers Festival x Macquarie University event Between the Covers last week. The lovely folks at EWF interviewed me before the event — you can read it in full here.
Posted by Neha Kale on April 7th, 2017
Issue 17 of VAULT, featuring my story on the incredible American artist Nick Cave (that’s one of his Technicolour soundsuits on the cover!) as well as features on Big Ego Books, the Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, Chiharu Shiota, Patrizia Moroso, Jonathan Jones and cats of the art world out at good newsagents and bookstores around the country now. You can subscribe here.
I have a new column up at SBS Lifeabout the dangers of blaming immigration for Australia’s housing crisis.
Posted by Neha Kale on February 28th, 2017
From a 1993 interview with the writer James Salter, who I’ve just discovered, in the Paris Review.
Posted by Neha Kale on February 9th, 2017
“I used to really love writing in the early mornings but these days, that time is for sitting on my balcony with a coffee and a stack of magazines and then walking the 40-minute walk to my studio and taking in the scenery. Taking pleasure in this time, before deadlines and emails kick in, has helped me feel a lot saner.”
As the world gets scarier, I feel like there’s nothing as grounding as having some daily rituals. Along with a group of freelancers, I chatted with Madeleine Dore of the excellent blog Extraordinary Routines about some of my worst and best working habits. You can read “Lessons on Being the Worst Freelancer” here.
Posted by Neha Kale on January 31st, 2017
It’s easy to dismiss ’90s malls as soulless shrines to consumption, home to crappy food courts, and embarrassing mid-market chain stores. But doing so ignores the ways in which these places gave teenagers a sense of connection with each other, as well as the freedom to be themselves. As a teenager, Saturdays and school holidays were spent with my friends, drifting up and down the escalators or circling the faux-Milanese atrium, the focal point of an exceedingly average Perth mall called the Galleria. We’d stop to try on Doc Martens that were out of our price range or cowl neck minidresses meant for nightclubs we were too young to go to. These unsupervised hours were our first real taste of adult freedom. The inward-facing nature of mall architecture let us indulge in our friendships and be as insular as we wanted to be—we were free to simply drift, to take up space. The things we did buy, like strawberry lip balms from The Body Shop and albums salvaged from the discount rack at Sanity, didn’t feel like consumer items, they felt like the evidence of our bonds.
— I wrote an essay for Vice, about being a teenage mallrat, as part of their weekend summer series. You can read it in full here.
Issue 16 of VAULT magazine, featuring stories on the crime-photographer-turned-artist Asger Carlsen, artists Julian Hooper, Pip & Pop, Oscar Enberg and Atong Atem as well as features on designing mausoleums and the fallout from the fake furniture boom is out at newsagents around the country now! Or you can subscribe here.
I was lucky enough to profile the incredible Canadian poet Rupi Kaur for The Collective — the issue, featuring Lupita Nyong’o on the cover, is out at good newsstands around the world now!
Posted by Neha Kale on November 15th, 2016
The stories of cities are always stories of gentrification and Kings Cross is a case in point. The trouble is, though, that we’re tricked into believing that gentrification and its bywords — renewal, regeneration, transformation — are a straightforward swap of one seamy, undesirable reality for one that’s cleaner, shinier and benefits us all.
But as Jason Reynolds points out in a January 2014 Gawker article, the root word of gentrification is gentry, which, as the Merriam-Webster puts it, refers to “the qualities appropriate to a person of gentle birth.” If you think that cities belong to those who live their life there rather than those powerful enough to believe in their right to civilise everything around them, without thinking about the consequences, this should make you as uncomfortable as it makes me.
But, for me, wildly inappropriate costumes aren’t as rattling as what those costumes might represent. I’ve grown desensitised to the possibility that white people might use Halloween to try on a false self that is culturally insensitive. It’s the fear that Halloween may give them permission to be their true self — a self whose racist instincts are submerged by polite society — that turns my blood to ice water and gives me the chills.
I spoke with Michael Cathcart from ABC Radio National’s Books and Arts show about the new issue of VAULT magazine — its cover features a nude painting by the New York painter Lisa Yuskavage and we were asked to censor the nipples before distribution. You can read the interview and listen to the full broadcast here.
Posted by Neha Kale on August 9th, 2016
Any artist will tell you that on our best days, making art is a labour of love. The starving artist myth tells us many lies, but two stand out: The first is that our labour is worth nothing, and the second is that love conquers all.
— I wrote about why the starving artist myth is a toxic legacy we need to shut down now for Daily Life.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 20th, 2016
And as xenophobia, a virus whose symptoms are always felt before they’re detected, springs up everywhere from muttered asides to national policy, it’s getting harder to find relief. Throw in garden-variety micro-aggressions (“where do you really come from?”) and achieving a state of wellbeing starts to resemble a marathon with no finish line, a clumsy stab at lightness in the face of a crushing ache.
— A new column, for SBS Life, on why people of colour should prioritise self-care as the return of Pauline Hanson sinks in.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 20th, 2016
But although following your desires and cultivating a meaningful work life are worthwhile and important missions, there’s something dangerous about the way “do what you love” elevates entrepreneurship over working a day job and constructs the decision to go freelance as a moral choice. Sure, leaving an IT firm to launch your first startup or resigning from your lucrative finance gig to write the novel that’s burning inside you can mean carving a career built on independence and autonomy but your success isn’t just down to talent and tenacity; it’s also a matter of race and class privileges that include the ability to speak English, access to money and resources, a network of professional contacts and, if you happen to be a mother, the means to afford childcare so that you can meet the around-the-clock responsibilities that self-employment often demands. A 2013 paper by the University of California, Berkeley, found that successful entrepreneurs were disproportionately white, male and highly educated, in the century’s least surprising news.
— A column, from a couple of weeks ago, on why the mantra ‘do what you love’ irks me for SBS Life.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 20th, 2016
This wouldn’t be an issue if minimalism wasn’t among the defining mindsets of our time. The fact that our online lives are being shaped by the around-the-clock noise of social media (Twitter! Vine! Snapchat!), has seen us devote our offline lives to fantasising about an existence devoid of clutter.
Whether that means worshipping Marie Kondo, the Japanese lifestyle guru who urges us to bin any possession that fails to “spark joy”, subscribing to the Tiny House Movement, a global campaign that asks us to swap suburban bungalows for a matchbox-sized residence or, better still, a treehouse or caravan (the Facebook page for Tiny Houses Australia has 34,000 followers) or elevating Kyoto or Stockholm, cities that understand the magic of a spartan interior and solitary houseplant, over unruly outposts such as Sydney or Adelaide.
And from Apple’s Siri, the chirpy virtual assistant who can help you schedule meetings and find directions to Amazon’s Alexa, who can plan dinner and organise date night like a dutiful secretary, we’re inundated with AIs with female voices and female names. It’s a reflection of a world that sees women as servile, domestic creatures whose feelings are overlooked and whose labour goes widely uncompensated. “Our machines are projections of us. They’re dreams or metaphors for our own anxieties,” says Sophie Mayer, a film studies lecturer at London’s Queen Mary University in a January 2015 article in The Guardian.
— In case you missed it, my column on whether or not robots can solve our gender woes for Daily Life.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 20th, 2016
But although desirability has played a starring role in Beyonce’s career, ‘Lemonade’ expands this definition of female power before exploding it from within. The visual album, which samples Malcolm X’s 1962 speech “Who taught you to hate yourself?” and is laced with haunting spoken word written by the poet Warsan Shire, intersperses images of Beyonce spitting verse in a fur coat and grinding in the red-lit gloom of the club with scenes in which she floats, grief-stricken, underwater, destroys everything around her grinning with manic energy, strides through a field flanked by naked women wearing crowns that channel the Egyptian queen Nefertiti and presides over the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
— My column on Beyonce’s Lemonade and how the witch hunt against ‘Becky’ misses the point for Daily Life.
I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too.
Early today, my boyfriend woke me up to tell me that Prince was dead and in my hazy half-sleep I mumbled that this confirmed that he was actually alive. Artists talk about leaving behind a legacy but legacy insists on a retroactive greatness. Prince, whose music is somehow both everywhere and nowhere (it’s hard to stream even his biggest songs, thanks to ongoing battles with his record label) has always made immortality feel like the more extraordinary achievement.
As I got ready for work, I listened to ‘Little Red Corvette’ and it struck me that the death of someone whose artistry transcended the earthly trappings of race and gender, is a reminder of how little it pays to be cowed by the world. Growing up with MTV, where Prince writhed in purple fumes and hot-pink glitter, showed me that tastefulness is a boring ambition and being too much – even if no one ever gets you – is maybe worth aspiring to instead.
Posted by Neha Kale on April 22nd, 2016
When I first started practicing yoga, I admired how effortlessly my classmates could spring into a headstand and move from cobra to downward dog. But it was their ability to tap into the signifiers of ethnicity without fear of being ridiculed, laughed at or dehumanised that I envied a whole lot more.
As you get older, you become brave enough to make decisions that improve your quality of life. In the last year, I’ve resolved to get eight hours’ sleep, avoid working on weekends and prioritise my yoga class no matter how busy I get. I’ve also stopped caring whether or not the choices I make play into some racist fiction about how someone of Indian descent should be. Kerrie made me feel like I wasn’t a whole person but if I take responsibility for it she’ll always have the last laugh.
More insidiously, it plays to the lie that if working class people hold down service jobs and are on the poverty line, it’s because they’re not savvy or educated enough to excel. That’s why a 40-year-old single mother working a minimum wage cafe job will inspire less empathy than Girls‘ Ray, whose extended stint making coffees is down to systemic problems such as, say, a bad economy or generational failure to launch. For all its inclusiveness, if Master of None expanded its portrayal of millennials beyond those who can afford sprawling lofts and time to dish on relationship dramas, the show would be considerably less charming.
– I wrote about the ways in which millennial sitcoms overlook the working-class experience for Daily Lifethis week.
Last year, I had the pleasure of working one of my favourite writing projects to date — the first-ever Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook, published by Broadsheet and Pan MacMillan imprint Plum Books. I co-wrote the book with food journalist Jane De Graaff and was lucky enough to interview some of Sydney’s brightest culinary talents including Rockpool’s Neil Perry, Bulletin Place’s Adi Ruiz, Billy Kwong’s Kylie Kwong and Iceberg’s Maurizio Terzini. The book, which features over 80 signature recipes from Sydney’s favourite restaurants, cafes and bars as well as gorgeous photography by Will and Hannah Meppem, is available to purchase here.
If you happen to be in Canberra next weekend, I’ll be answering all your burning freelance writing questions as part of an Artist Triage event at Noted Festival on Sunday the 20th from 11:20 to 11:40 alongside a host of amazing writers and editors. I’ll also be participating in the Independent Publishing Fair at the Gorman Arts Centre in Braddon. Come down and say hi! You can check out Noted’s killer program of events here.
Late last year, I took over as editor of VAULT magazine and so pleased to report that my first issue as editor is out at newsagents now. It includes a cover story on the work of Michael Cook, an essay on the Paris terror attacks and features on Marian Tubbs, Grayson Perry, Celia Hempton, Kasia Klimpel, Louise Zhang and the LA art scene by the incredibly talented team of contributors. You can subscribe here.
Posted by Neha Kale on March 13th, 2016
There’s no doubt that articles that urge foodies to travel to far-flung suburbs to sample that tiny mezze place or the city’s best Sichuan cooking have made eating out more exciting. But they also risk creating a Foodie Olympics, where points are awarded for the spiciest, strangest and most obscure – as if turning the food staples of entire cultures into a “culinary adventure” isn’t offensive enough.
“Eventually, a hole-in-the-wall reaches critical white-Instagrammer mass, and the swarm moves on to its next discovery, decrying the former fixation’s loss of authenticity,” Soleil Heil writes in her February 2016 essay ‘Craving the Other.’
Worse still, it sparks the probability that the enthusiasm that sees your average ‘ethnic’ food lover identify star anise from Sichuan pepper with their eyes closed, won’t extend to acknowledging the actual differences between Chinese people.
– I wrote my first article – on the politics of food trends – for SBS Lifeyesterday. You can read it here.
Posted by Neha Kale on March 10th, 2016
Wollen is equally committed to reclaiming ‘girl’ – a word that stands in for youth, foolishness and vulnerability – as a badge of pride. She says girls often “can’t live up to the demands of contemporary feminism – to have high self esteem, a lot of money, great sex, fearlessness – and end up in a shame spiral as if we could just pull up our bootstraps, work a little harder, and fix things.”
– I interviewed intriguing LA artist Audrey Wollen about her powerful ‘Sad Girl Theory’ for Daily Life a couple of weeks ago. You can read the piece here.
Posted by Neha Kale on February 29th, 2016
What I found out — what I discovered at City Paper — was that journalism is a done thing. In other words, there is no real “better than you.” There’s just the story you produced. That’s what it is. Either you repeatedly asked questions or you didn’t. But you made a choice. Someone else might be more curious than you, but the functionality of them being more curious than you is that they just asked more questions. That was a deep sort of lesson — that the winner is the person who keeps asking questions. That’s the winner.
– Ta-Nehisi Coates’ cure for journalistic envy in New York magazine.
Posted by Neha Kale on January 19th, 2016
This promise of making a temporary home in Tokyo, New York or Rio, regardless of your background, class or bank balance, has buoyed Airbnb’s growth since its beginning but its forward-looking face is fraying a little at the seams. In December 2015, a study from Harvard Business School, which surveyed 6,000 hosts across five US cities, found that Airbnb hosts were 16 per cent less likely to accept prospective guests with names that sounded African-American, such as Darnell, Rasheed or Tamika than those called Allison, Brent or Kristen, who they presumed were white. This practice spanned every demographic, even as each instance of racial profiling sparked losses of $65 to $100. Suddenly, the ‘Bélo‘, the Airbnb logo conceived as the global symbol of belonging, has already started to look more like the sign of a world whose cosmopolitanism extends to letting strangers crash on its couch but not quite far enough to actually open its mind.
– I wrote about AirbnB bias and the downside of the sharing economy for Daily Life last week.
Posted by Neha Kale on January 19th, 2016
A lot of the talk about Bowie swirls down to how he played himself, and it’s true that he gave us a whole pop sense of persona. It’s also true and more important to me that he worked harder and longer than he played. He took his work more seriously than he took himself, which is the first and number one lesson of adult life. He knew when to go out and when to stay in, which is the second. When he was older, like when he was younger, he made some bad art and decisions. Sometimes he was a joke, but he was always the first to tell it (in interviews, commercials, and guest appearances, he was very, very funny in the is-it-or-isn’t-it way I like). No one could repeat him, duh. No one so glittering and dilettantish was also a public intellectual, and no one made trying (the new selling out) look hotter. No one reminds me more that trying again is the really heroic move.
For a month, he called her every night and they would talk for hours. Finally, he paid a visit. “He looked just like Charlie Chaplin, a clown suit, a big black hat,” said Simone. “He told me that he was not a gifted singer and he knew it. He said, ‘What’s wrong with you is you were gifted—you have to play. Your genius overshadows the money, and you don’t know what to do to get your money, whereas I wasn’t a genius, but I planned, I wanted to be a rock-and-roll singer and I just got the right formula.’ ”
What Bowie was affirming for Nina was her true calling as an artist, a sensibility that he could recognize as something different from that of a pop star. At a period of such turbulence, it was a lift that she needed. “He’s got more sense than anybody I’ve ever known,” she said. “It’s not human—David ain’t from here.”
Happy almost New Year everyone! It’s been a frantic few weeks (more updates on that soon) but thrilled to report that my essay “The double standards of what’s considered black beauty” is one of Daily Life’s top 20 stories of the year. If you’re lucky enough to have ample reading time over summer break, this list also includes must-reads by Natalie Reilly, Ruby Hamad, Celeste Liddle and Clementine Ford.
Posted by Neha Kale on December 30th, 2015
‘Master of None’ owes its strengths to the way it writes people of colour who are curious, complicated and frivolous all at once. But it’s masterful because it honours the journeys we take as migrants but believes we’re shaped by the journeys we take as human beings.
– I wrote about Aziz Ansari’s incredible new show Master of None for Daily Lifelast week.
Posted by Neha Kale on November 24th, 2015
In Australia, a model minority can’t flinch when a boss expresses surprise that they’re bad at maths and grew up in the suburbs of Brisbane. They’re supposed to ignore the connection between a myth that casts them as hardworking and self-sufficient and one that suggests indigenous Australians are to blame for their own disadvantage.
– I wrote about the dangers of the model minority myth for Daily Life.
Posted by Neha Kale on October 21st, 2015
If you happen to be staying in a Jumeirah hotel in Shanghai, London, Dubai or Frankfurt, pick up a copy of Jumeirahmagazine – I profiled the incredible Hong Kong gallerist Pearl Lam. It’s the magazine with Pierce Brosnan on the cover!
But look, the whole idea of “breaking through” is such a crock of shit. If you do nothing else, build a religion around this one fact. Beyond the ability to feed yourself, it doesn’t fucking matter if a million people love you or five people do. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 75. You cannot pollute your life with this fixation. You can feel relevant, you can imagine that you somehow matter in the larger scheme of things, you can commit to being a force in the world, without hitting some arbitrary high score or crossing some imaginary threshold of popularity. I am drawn to the flame of Twitter for some great reasons and for some reasons that spring from some slow, sick, sucking part of me, to quote Pavement like the old fucker I am. But you can’t construct your life around these equations. You can’t try to “reach” some imagined mob of dipshits, molding your work to match their dipshitty tastes. Be a lovely odd duck instead, one who hardly notices if people are booing or cheering.
– Heather Havrilesky killing it in her column for The Cutthis week
“It was terrifying because I was leaving a full-time salary and a job that was perfect on paper but when it was the first thing I was thinking about when I was waking up in the morning and the last thing I was thinking about before I went to sleep I knew it was time,” says Eleanor Pendleton, the trailblazing editor and entrepreneur behind online beauty magazine Gritty Pretty. My profile of Pendleton is The Collective magazine’s cover story this month – at newsagents now.
Posted by Neha Kale on September 14th, 2015
My Sex and the City boxed set is gathering dust in the back of a drawer but I can’t bring myself to throw it out. Ten years ago, a friend and I, jobless and aimless, put on it repeat and watching Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte turn to each other again and again brought our own bond into focus. Now, the telltale pink shoebox feels like a talisman. As Tavi Gevinson writes in her most recent Rookie Editor’s letter, “I find it odd find it odd to characterise romantic relationships as “more than friends.” It seems friendship ought to be the prized jewel.”
From cult photographer Petra Collins, who uses a sherbet palette to capture all the pleasure and pain of female adolescence, to YouTube star Grace Helbig, who gives her teenage fan base make-up tutorials clad in pyjamas, to Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, who’ve made careers out of mining the female experience and skewering its countless taboos, these creators are less interested in protesting the role of women as sexualised objects than they are in asserting our place as the all-seeing subjects of our own world.
In cased you missed it, I profiled talented illustrator James Gulliver Hancock and his latest book All the Buildings in Sydney for the last ever print issue of Broadsheet – read the whole thing over here.
Posted by Neha Kale on August 4th, 2015
The new issue of Vault is out! For this issue, I wrote on Sydney artist Clare Milledge and her shapeshifting installations.
An outtake from a whirwind trip to Byron Bay for an upcoming magazine feature last week. I’d never been before but it was exactly how I’d pictured it – like a Slim Aarons photo shoot crossed with hazy ‘seventies Australiana.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 13th, 2015
Winehouse, who grew up memorising the music of jazz greats like Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughn, might possess a voice that sounds like velvet cigarette smoke – but to undermine her artistry, we made self-destructiveness her myth. She might have dabbled in crack cocaine, but she became a tragic heroine because she dared to contain different things.
– From my Daily Life story on the new Amy Winehouse documentary a couple of weeks ago. It’s a masterful and heartbreaking piece of filmmaking – if you haven’t seen it already, I thoroughly recommend it.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 13th, 2015
The lovely people over at Express Media interviewed me for National Young Writer’s Month last month. You can read the interview here.
Posted by Neha Kale on July 13th, 2015
Turn-of-the-century heroics might be hopelessly outdated but the ghosts of Jeffries and Barr are still looming large. In the last two years, the fact Chinese investors have overtaken the US as the biggest buyers of Australian property has sparked headlines that could wake the ghost of Edward Said, the thinker whose 1978 book Orientalism first suggested the West imagines itself in relation to the “Inscrutable Oriental”, a deviant Asian Other whose strange customs and shadowy intentions should be mistrusted at all costs.
– Have the property wars become racism’s new frontier? – I have a new Daily Life column up today
Posted by Neha Kale on July 13th, 2015
Last week, I chatted about freelance writing, motivation and rejection with Sydney radio station 2SER, along with Express Media Creative Producer Fiona Dunne. I’ll be running a Freelancing 101 session as part of Express Media’s awesome National Young Writer’s Month program on the 23rd of June – listen to the interview here and check out the full program here – it’s full of tips and advice I wish I had when I was starting out.
Three years since I packed up my life in Melbourne, booked a one-way ticket to Sydney with no plans except the vague desire to take cliffside strolls, stare out at the Pacific ocean and work entirely for myself. Thankfully, it’s working out so far and I wrote about it for Hijacked last month. Here’s a full-text version of the article in case you missed it.
Back in 2010, US culture site The Awl ran a widely circulated story about a freelance writer who was so impoverished he had to resort to making soup out of crushed vitamins for dinner, despite being published everywhere from Rolling Stone to The New York Times. That piece, which still surfaces on social media feeds, worked as a cautionary tale for would-be freelancers. ‘If you ditch the day job,’ it seemed to suggest, ‘you’ll end up broke and alone.’
Last month, I celebrated my three-year anniversary as a full-time freelancer and I’m happy to report that I’ve never had to learn how to crush vitamins to make soup (I hate soup). But I have learned that you can build a freelance career that sustains you creatively and financially, if you can take risks, be strategic and prepare yourself to work incredibly hard.
Although I’ve always dreamed of being a freelance writer, the idea that there’s a hero moment that sees you dramatically quit your job to spend your days scribbling in your Moleskine at a cafe or relocate to Iowa to pen thinly veiled fiction like Girls’ Hannah Horvath is a lie that’s mostly designed to hold you back. Personally, I studied Professional Writing and Cultural Studies in my hometown, Perth, Western Australia, headed to London to work and travel in my early twenties, and spent four years in Melbourne working in business writing and custom publishing. However, I always felt a niggling dissatisfaction that I wanted something bigger and I trusted this enough to spend early mornings and weekends pitching and writing about art, film, travel and culture for publications such as Broadsheet and Metro. When I moved to Sydney to freelance, my portfolio and experience meant that editors and clients took me seriously even though I was as good as unknown when I got there.
These days, I spend my time juggling features, columns and profiles for publications such as Daily Life, VAULT,Open Skies and The Collective with copywriting and content projects that draw on my skills as a writer and editor, and ensure that my bills get paid on time. In the first couple of years, I was so hell-bent on succeeding that I’d regularly clock 60-hour weeks, but I’m now in a much better position to slow down a little and take stock of what I’ve learned.
Firstly, the one thing that’s enabled my writing career is the fact that I found a niche that pays well. Writing articles on topics such as business and technology afford me the hours I spend pitching to overseas publications, labouring over a piece of cultural criticism that truly matters to me or doing whatever it takes to nail a story. There’s nothing more toxic than the myth of the starving artist. Not being able to make rent might be seriously stressful, but it can also shrink a writer’s creative ambitions.
As important as it is to be practical, it’s equally essential to back yourself and your ideas. Two of the biggest stories I’ve published – a piece on a secret collaboration between Chicks on Speed and Julian Assange which ended up as an exclusive for The Vine and a feature on art deco cinemas of the world for the cover of in-flight magazine Open Skies – wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t pursued them relentlessly. Often, being a freelance journalist means pulling out all the stops.
You might not have a boss peering over your shoulder, but failing to think of freelancing as a profession is a rookie mistake. For me, working out of a co-working space in Newtown, monitoring my cash flow, reading magazines and online publications obsessively and improving my craft on a daily basis are non-negotiable. Hopefully, this means I’ll still be doing this in three years’ time.
Neha Kale is a Sydney-based freelance journalist writing for Daily Life, The Collective,VAULT, Broadsheet,Open Skies, The Vine, i-D and more.
Last week, I was lucky enough to speak about my interviewing tips, highlights and horror stories along with Veronica Sullivan, Emily Laidlaw and Madeleine Dore during the Emerging Writer’s Festival in Melbourne. Public speaking can be intimidating but it was so inspiring listening and responding to how my co-panelists approach interviews that the whole thing was a dream. As was the audience. I know writer’s festivals can feel like a happy, optimistic bubble that’s a world away from the loneliness of spending hours at your desk but I think getting outside your own head and realising that there’s so many people with the same struggles as you can sometimes feel like a form of survival.
Posted by Neha Kale on June 5th, 2015
As Rawiya Kameir points out in a May 2014 The Daily Beast article, Nyong’o might be stunning but we recognise her beauty at the expense of women like Precious star Gabourey Sidibe because her Ivy League pedigree and smooth, TransAtlantic accent speaks to class aspirations that are rooted in whiteness, one that flattens her Otherness and marks her out as “one of us.” Twigs, who taught herself to produce videos so she could engineer every aspect of her artistic persona, and Wen, who revealed the grit and determination that catapulted her to stardom in a September 2014 Vogue essay, fit neatly into the class fantasy that elevates those who are exceptional while ignoring the messy business of social change.
That time I live-blogged the Women of Style Awards for InStyle magazine and realised that as much as I like the process of spending hours on a feature, there’s something weirdly exhilarating about storytelling on the fly.
Posted by Neha Kale on May 14th, 2015
But if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to catch your boss air-punching a mirror before a big meeting or been chastised for being too aggressive during a presentation – right after you’ve been implored to show more backbone – you’ll know that internalising these tedious martial metaphors often feels like the only choice. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, the bestselling manual that tells us to swap girlish second-guessing for militant goal-seeking, and Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s case for quashing your fears to step into opportunities you’re not prepared for, might be considered as essential to success as a well-cut power suit, but their vision of female empowerment still addresses a workplace shaped by masculine hierarchies. The first time I worked out that invoking a piece of jargon in lieu of articulating my feelings meant that men I reported to would take me more seriously, my internal facepalm couldn’t match the thrill of cracking a secret code. “Surround yourself with a Plexiglass shield,” writes Dr Lois Frankel in Nice Girls. “If you’re offered a seat on the rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on,” Lean In helpfully suggests.
I interviewed the incredible British painter Kaye Donachie for the latest issue of VAULT magazine. The issue also features a piece I wrote on Sydney art collector Clinton Ng as well as great interviews with Gilbert and George, Ramesh Nithiyendran and El Anatsui. At newsagents now!
Posted by Neha Kale on April 20th, 2015
This is the best.
Posted by Neha Kale on April 20th, 2015
However, “swirl” conjures images of chocolate melting into vanilla – and this is where ice cream metaphors fall horribly short. On her high-traffic dating site Beyond Black & White, Karazin (who’s happily married to a white man) makes the case for “swirling” based on statistics that are the product of systemic inequalities, such as low marriage rates between African-Americans. Swirlr, which is about as edgy as an episode of Joe Millionaire, features awkward bowling dates in which spirited women named Quintana gravitate towards brooding jocks called Rocky.
Karazin’s app might ask us to “date different” but her project still reflects a culture that uses the language of cosmopolitanism to push a version of diversity with whiteness at its heart. If the world was really post-racial, we wouldn’t celebrate interracial couples for being interracial. Love depends on feelings that occur entirely beneath the skin.
– I’ve wanted to write about Swirlr, a web series I stumbled across last year for ages and it’s the subject of today’s Daily Life column. Read it here.
Posted by Neha Kale on April 20th, 2015
There’s a lot of presumption that goes into writing. There’s a lot of internal questioning: Am I an expert? Can I speak on this topic? What makes me valid enough to have a voice? I’ve had to work towards the idea that I couldn’t just arrive in a room and be a person with ideas; and that I needed to respond to other people’s curiosity about who I was before I could really enter a room.
– The Guardian’srecent interview with Brooklyn writer Durga Chew-Bose is crazily insightful.
Posted by Neha Kale on March 26th, 2015
Image credit: The Cobrasnake
Somewhere between the demise of American Apparel and the unmasking of Gavin McInnes, the Vice co-founder who penned an openly transphobic essay for Thought Catalog last August, an appetite for sincerity and self-improvement has seen irony lose its edge. Last year, Emily Gould, the former gossip columnist credited with inventing Internet snark published a heartfelt memoir about the trials of female friendship. And in what may be an apex of the age of earnestness, The New York Times recently introduced readers to snowga – a dubious hybrid of yoga and snowsport.
– Thrilled to report that I’ll be contributing to The Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life fortnightly this year. If you missed it, today’s column is about why we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the age of earnestness.
Posted by Neha Kale on March 16th, 2015
Image credit: Nikki Chadwick
Sitting at Universal Music’s Sydney headquarters, a concrete-and-glass space dotted with egg-shaped couches and flickering flat screens, it’s impossible not to worry that this charming earnestness is destined to become a casualty of the high corridors of hit making. But in the last 18 months, 20-year-old Georgia’s crystalline voice, which ducks and weaves between multi-instrumentalist brother Caleb’s lush synths, has already helped catapult the pair beyond their wildest dreams.
The latest issue of Renegade Collective, featuring my interview with Georgia and Caleb Nott, the brother-sister duo behind Broods – an indie act whose short but explosive trajectory includes sold-out US shows – is out at newsagents now. Super-talented and incredibly humble. What’s not to like?
Posted by Neha Kale on March 3rd, 2015
From ‘Dear Sugar’, a cult The Rumpus advice column that showcases Cheryl Strayed’s talent for turning promiscuity into poetry, to ‘Savage Love’, gay activist Dan Savage’s attempt at questioning sexual norms, to The Cut‘s ‘Ask Polly’, where Heather Havrilesky draws from her past as a beer-swilling ingrate to inspire readers to take charge of their lives, these modern-day advice columnists are an Internet-era corrective to a world where we google our heartbreaks and air career problems on Reddit – even if the decisions we face are more complex than ever.
I wrote a column about my obsession with the agony aunt revival over at Daily Life today. Also, Murakami’s new advice column is the best thing ever.
Posted by Neha Kale on February 25th, 2015
The answer has almost nothing to do with the writer’s emotional context and everything to do with the fact that quest narratives belong to a Western literary tradition in which “finding yourself” hinges on the presence of a far-flung Other, whose authenticity brings your own truth sharply into focus. The scenery might switch between Kerouac’s heady African-American jazz clubs, Gilbert’s technicolour Indian wedding and Strayed’s snow-covered High Sierras, but it’s the process that makes it easy to emulate – as O’Heir writes, “the problem with all self-help or inspirational literature is always the same: People want to take it literally, and we have a tendency to mistake the map for the journey.”
The last three months have flown by in a series of deadlines bookended by an incredible fortnight in Japan. Here are some things that I’ve been working on in the last little while.
I’ve had many kinds of interview experiences but few as humbling as my chat with the artist Sydney Ball for Broadsheet. You can read the piece here – images by the lovely Rachel Kara.
I reviewed Lena Dunham’s memoir Not that Kind of Girl for The Vine back in October.
A roundup of five female artists I think are worth watching for Daily Life.
I profiled Sydney artist Jelena Telecki for the latest issue of Vault magazine.
My feature on Houzz co-founder Adi Tatarko is in this month’s Renegade Collective at newsagents around the country now.
Posted by Neha Kale on December 18th, 2014
And I imagined my own pain, my anger, magnified by fifty in the man who would send that email, the person who believes that life is a zero-sum game and girls are there to be your props, that anyone else’s artistry is a mere distraction from the Lord’s grand plan to promote your agenda. How painful that must be, how suffocating. And I decided then that I would never be jealous. I will never be vengeful. I won’t be threatened by the old or the new. I’ll open wide like a daisy every morning. I’ll make my work.”
– my favourite excerpt from Not That Kind of Girl, the new essay collection by Girls creator Lena Dunham. I enjoyed it immensely, despite the hype.
If Keef, who makes the kind of hedonistic party music that could soundtrack the apocalypse and is regularly arrested for weapons charges, represents the tension between authenticity and bankability that’s as old as hip-hop itself, then Herb, whose acclaimed recent mixtape Welcome to Fazoland ⎯ named for a dead friend ⎯ tempers bleak portraits of urban warfare with a rare technical artistry, demonstrates the form’s ability to spin hopeless circumstances into a vehicle for redemption and joy. Herb’s real-world tales of street violence give voice to metaphorical struggles too, proof that hip-hop can be a talisman for triumph over adversity, a legacy that found its apex in Biggie and Tupac.
An excerpt from my feature on Chicago’s drill music scene which was published in new biannual magazine Museum. Some of the young hip-hop artists I profiled live pretty turbulent existences so getting this story wasn’t easy – but the fact that their lives are such a testament to how hardship can galvanise ambition has made it one of the favourite stories I’ve worked on to date. Read the whole thing here or you can preorder Museumhere.
For most of us, learning to read is like learning to walk. The ability to glean meaning from symbols on a page is so instinctive, we forget that the first sentences we read also enabled us to write our own futures. In August, I was lucky enough to become an online ambassador for Do it in a Dress, a campaign by One Girl – an inspiring Melbourne-based organisation hell-bent on helping the 66 million girls in the world who don’t have access to this privilege. The campaign, which has already raised $120,000 – enough to send 412 girls in the Sierra Leone to school – is a call to action for anyone who’s ever wondered if they could change the way that gender inequality shapes the course of girls lives. Want to know how you can help? Visit http://www.doitinadress.com/ for more information and check out the video below.
If you happen to be in Sydney, pick up the new Broadsheet spring issue – I wrote the cover story on Kelvin Ho of Sydney design firm Akin Creative, who’s super-nice and very talented. It also features a guide I wrote on dumplings of the world, photojournalism from Andrew Quilty and an intriguing story on Surry Hills’ Hibernian House.
Posted by Neha Kale on September 10th, 2014
But you don’t have to be white to remember those weird years before you became smart and responsible and tightly edited. The pain and pleasures of taking wrong turns, being self-destructive in order to create something and doing things that aren’t you to find out who you are aren’t specific to race – they’re just a consequence of being young.
– In case you missed it, here’s an excerpt from my piece in Daily Life a couple of weeks ago on the absence of white characters in wasted youth narratives.
“If you’re the sort of person who fucking whines about being motivated, like some of the art students I lecture, then just fucking stop. I’m not interested in speaking to anyone who wonders how to motivate themselves. If you need to talk about how to get motivated, then go get a normal job in the normal scheme of the world and just do art as a hobby so you still love it. Stop clogging up the field for the people who need this like a drug,” says artist and journalist, Molly Crabapple in one of the excellent longform interviews over at The Great Discontent. Also worth checking out the interview with Roxane Gay, whose book of essays Bad Feminist, I devoured in two days.
When I’m reading Murakami, strange serendipitous things start happening in my life (when my boyfriend is reading him at the same time, the weirdness doubles). This Buzzfeed essay sums up his addictive brand of magic.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to stumble on Ann Friedman’s essay on Patti Smith for This Recording. For me, Smith’s Horses is the urgent, musical sum of endless Saturday nights in Melbourne with my best friends and the hazy glow of mornings after.
Miranda July’s new app Somebody turns to the power of hashtags to forge connections between strangers.
I loved Rachel Hill’s story on how millennials are embracing the #girlboss philosophy on The Daily Beast.
Last week, I saw The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum speak at the Opera House for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and she reminded me about why Sex and the City and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are two of my all-time favourite shows.
“I was a boy haunted by questions: Why do the lilies close at night? Why does my father always say, “I can dig it”? And who really killed the dinosaurs? And why is my life so unlike everything I see on TV? That feeling—the not knowing, the longing for knowing, and the eventual answer—is love and youth to me. And I have always preferred libraries to classrooms because the wide open library is the ultimate venue for this theater.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates has new writing up at The Atlantic.
I find FKA Twig’s blend of art, persona and ethereal, trip-hop laced electronica fascinating. Her music is like a modern-day tribute to the old, scratched Aaliyah CDs I used to have on repeat in my suburban bedroom in the nineties.
Posted by Neha Kale on September 10th, 2014
“The scenes of Mumbai are less interested in technicolour weddings than they are with crumbling apartments and the way it feels to stand alone in a packed commuter train. It captures the rhythms a of a single city while maintaining that finding an emotional connection when you’re surrounded by strangers is remarkable anywhere. And Ila’s decision to leave her joyless marriage is the mark of a film that doesn’t treat her as a cipher or a way to advance the plot. She might exist in a world where you wash laundry by hand and making an aromatic lunch is a form of self-expression but that doesn’t make her choices less feminist.”
Is ‘The Lunchbox’ the perfect indie love story? – my latest at Daily Life
David Goldberg might be the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In author and one of Forbes most powerful women in business but his own trajectory – which includes leading a Silicon Valley start-up during the Napster era and heading up SurveyMonkey, an online survey site that was valued at $US1 billion – is no less fascinating. I interviewed Goldberg, who was in Sydney to launch Survey Monkey’s new Asia-Pacific office for Renegade Collective magazine, and his generous answers were baffling in light of the fact that he must have suffered some serious lack of sleep. The issue, which also includes a great feature on Misty Copeland, the first African-American female soloist for the American Ballet, is available in Australia now.
Vault issue 7 is at newsagents now featuring my profile of G-Star’s Shubhankar Ray – the kind of creative director who still carries around a notebook to document ideas and weaves influences that range from art hijacks to post-punk Manchester into his work. It was one of those long, dense interviews that are a nightmare to transcribe but can see the story just write itself – read it here. This issue also includes an essay on LA photographer Elad Lassry who makes flat, monochrome collages using materials such as old issues of Life.
There’s been a lot of discussion about why it took so long for the cult of Terry Richardson to unravel. As always, Molly Lambert’s Grantlandanalysis – which also attributes American Apparel’s success to the third-wave feminist myth that women have somehow mastered the male gaze – sums it up.
Whether it’s fossicking for sea urchins or uprooting edible weeds, it’s difficult to have a conversation about food culture in Sydney without referencing the foraging trend. Gillian Osborne’s brilliant essay Stone-Age Nostalgia links the rarefied foraged creations we might find ourselves eating at Copenhagen’s Noma (if we can get a table) to a longing for the ecological past.
What is it about getting a glimpse into people’s routines that’s so fascinating? It’s difficult to shake off the voyeuristic thrill of Waiting for Saturdayand the Morning After section of Adult magazine. The latter is also home to killer first-person writing that riffs on modern-day sexuality.
A few weeks ago I interviewed Gia Coppola ahead of the Australian release of Palo Alto, which was adapted from a short story collection by James Franco. Although the film, which follows a group of teenagers indulge in the kind of hedonism specific to adolescence (joyless party scenes, sexual encounters in lieu of love) and features a bleached-out visual language that makes you long for Californian summers you never had, it’s also a textbook example of how narratives about wasted youth owe their power to an ability to take race out of the equation. Often, we’re presented with aspirational stories about white, middle class kids giving into the excesses of being young not because ethnic kids are never wasted or lost but because people of colour are required to be productive members of society – a journey that doesn’t involve drugs, parties or booze.
There’s a scene in Frances Ha, a 2013 film written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, where the title character runs gawkily through the streets of New York to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Frances, a 27-year old aspiring dancer who believes that her best friend Sophie is the love of her life, has just spent a night drinking whiskey with new friends at a low-key party: the kind of meandering night that makes you feel like your inner and outer worlds are completely aligned. There are many things to love about this film – including its portrayal of female friendship as both complicated and transformative and its ability to capture the weightlessness of being in your twenties – but the way it frames being led by your feelings as an achievement is my favourite thing of all.
Last week, I interviewed Ben Lowy, a war photographer who decamped to Iraq at age 23 and makes images that shed light on far-flung corners of the human condition and wind up on the cover of Time in the process. The same week, Fairfax fired 30 photographers and outsourced the bulk of its photography to Getty Images – proof that clinging to the halcyon days that saw journalists rewarded for their storytelling efforts might be incompatible with the wider project of making a living.
However, I believe that no amount of fear-mongering about the decline of print or unwillingness of news organisations to fund assignments that matter can erase the journalistic urge to dismantle invisible regimes of power. Lowy might admit that a family and mortgage have quashed his desire to enter war zones, but his work shows that it’s worth risking everything to shed light on what lies beyond the frame.
When you walk down your brand-new street – one heavy with tumbling gardens and light with autumn chill – it’s proof of the ways in which moving house can show you that home isn’t about where you live but how you feel.
Says Dan Perjovschi, an artist who’s capable of tearing down entire ideologies with a couple of hastily scrawled lines. The Romanian agitator and master of visual brevity was also the subject of a cover story for Vault magazine, at newsagents now. The issue also includes a profile of Kenzo and a feature on Australian artist Daniel Boyd as well as never-before-seen drawings by Perjovschi himself. Read the whole thing here.
Although I’ve always known that there’s something magical about an evening at the cinema, it only recently occurred to me that the shade of this magic can depend on whether you’re in Paris, Mumbai, Bangkok or Rio. I spent last month exploring this idea for Open Skies, the in-flight magazine for Emirates airlines and I’m beyond excited that it’s the cover feature this month. Read it here or pick up a copy if you happen to be flying somewhere on Emirates this month – it also features dreamy illustrations by UK illustrator Kyle Smart. The magazine reaches 3 million people and features some of the world’s most respected photographers and journalists, so I’m extremely humbled.
As a caffeine addict from way back, researching my first ever cover story – on how the shift in Sydney’s cafe culture reflects its evolution as a city as well as the things it values most – was pure bliss. I’m really fascinated by the ways cafes double as second loungerooms and can facilitate the need for solitude or the urge to feel like you’re part of a city’s fabric. Every time I’ve moved cities, I’ve gravitated towards cafes – places that allow you the luxury of being alone without ever feeling alone. Read the whole thing here.
Johnny Cupcakes on how striking entrepreneurial gold stems from making the most of whatever life deals you. I profiled the T-shirt extraordinaire and former Businessweek entrepreneur of the year for the March issue of Renegade Collective, available at newsagents now. It also features a killer interview with Martha Stewart, the patron saint of unconventional business advice. Read the whole thing here.
When I first moved to Melbourne seven years ago, I looked for signs that I’d done the right thing and seemed to find them everywhere. How the swoosh of the tram seemed to add a kind of sonic full stop to every moment, for instance. Or how you could take a wrong turn in the city and end up somewhere entirely unexpected. The fact that coming across Dumbo Feather, a magazine that publishes long-form interviews that tumble over lo-fi pages, was one of those signs meant that I was pretty excited when they commissioned me to interview Paul Allam ,the founder of Sydney’s much-loved Bourke Street Bakery, late last year. Here’s my recipe for striking interview magic.
Do your research
There’s nothing more disrespectful to your subject than showing up to an interview cold. Spending some time really understanding your interviewee’s back-story is the surest route to asking the right questions.
Use more than one recording device
Flat batteries, unruly technology, disappearing apps…I’ve learnt about interview heartbreak the hard way. These days, I record important interviews with my dictaphone and use the Audiomemos app on my Ipad for back-up.
Jump on interesting segues
Sometimes, the off-the-cuff remarks and surprise asides are entry points to sparkling new angles. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper.
Channel your best conversation
Forget about ego – the best interviews feel like generous exchanges, where the interviewer brings as much to the table as the subject. This doesn’t work in every circumstance but if you aim for this dynamic, you’re halfway there.
Learn to love transcribing
Unlike most journalists, I really enjoy transcribing interviews. Sure, the process can feel laborious, but I’ve always felt that it’s important to handle the raw material of your story before it can properly take shape.
From a sharp essay on twerking politics to a masterful feature on the life of a homeless girl, here are the stories that won me over this year.
Image credit: The Illustrated Junot Diaz
Like daily caffeine hits and nineties hip-hop, there’s something dangerously addictive about Junot Diaz’s voice. Here the author of This Is How You Lose Hershares his writing process with the Daily Beast.
I’ve always lived in the print isn’t dead camp and magazines such as Brace – a biannual cultural journal published between Sydney and New York – is a case in point. For the second issue, I wrote a story about one of my literary idols, Anais Nin – a woman who blended artistry, audacity and ambition to stunning effect. Pre-order the issue here!
My friend George just launched an ace online magazine, The Planthunter, which celebrates the relationship between people and plants. For the first issue, I wrote about Wendy Whiteley’s garden – a leafy haven that’s hands down one of my favourite places in Sydney. You should definitely subscribe.
Although I left Perth a long time ago, I’ve always believed that there’s something magical about the West Coast – an idea I explored as part of Pieces of Perth, a guidebook I wrote and edited for Urban Walkabout. Fairfax also said some nice things about the project.
A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Milanese industrial designer Martino Gamper for Vault, a new magazine with a fresh take on contemporary art. Gamper’s 100 Chairs, 100 Days project – which saw him spin chairs out of found objects – is inspiration for anyone who wants to fall back in love with their creative process. The latest issue, which also includes dreamy photo essays by Warwick Baker and Conor O’Brien and a feature on Helmut Newton and his muse Henriette, is on newsstands now.
Amazing Babes, a picture book featuring technicolour illustrations of extraordinary women, is the kind of gift I wish I’d received as a kid. I profiled the author Eliza Sarlos for Broadsheetearlier this month.
Last year, Paul McCartney absolved Yoko Ono of her role in breaking up The Beatles and last week, the Japanese-American artist and iconoclast, told the the Times just how thankful she was.
“I’m starting to understand something interesting,” she said. “If all those people hadn’t bashed me, what would I be doing now? What I am now was made by all those terrible incidents. I thought it was terrible all those years, but when I think about it now, I realise it was a blessing.”
While working on a feature about a retrospective of Ono’s work, due to open at the MCA next month, it struck me that this bashing has less to do with her status as an exotic temptress who dared to split up the greatest band alive – or a public contempt for performance art – and everything to do with the fact that messing with the Beatles is by extension, messing with the bedrock of white masculinity. I’m willing to bet that if Ono’s (sometimes unpalatable) sonic experiments emanated from someone like Thurston Moore, they would be hailed as avant-garde genius, rather than the warblings of an artist that history is not quite ready to hear.
Last weekend, I swapped Newtown for Newcastle thanks to the National Young Writer’s Festival, held as part of This is Not Art (TiNA). These were my high points.
Feminism versus beer
This NYF, I was lucky enough to be part of Cherchez La Femme, a live talkshow that couples feminist banter with icy beer. Topics covered: Molly Lambert, reality television and the secret life of Kanye West. You can download the podcast here!
Hand-stitched, illustrated, glossy, matte…I’ve always been obsessed with magazines. It was so inspiring to meet a bunch of publishers, editors and makers proving that there’s still magic in the printed word.
If you’re a writer, all the personal brand mantras in the world can’t touch the terror that comes with failing. The Fail Better panel offered a heartening look at how other writers deal with this.
This year, I was also part of a live debate that pitted cultural criticism and opinion writing against news journalism, along with some very talented panelists. A high school redux that also (partly) chased away my public speaking fears.
Small city serendipity
In Newcastle, scale seems to breed serendipitous moments. Here, following a stretch of sand and sea always leads you back where you need to be and navigating a street of shuttered restaurants ends in a post-panel dinner on a starlit balcony. Both reasons why I’m coming back.