Since 2015, EWF has had the privilege of administering the Richell Prize with Hachette Australia. This year, the Prize had over 850 entries. We chatted with the winner, Simone Amelia Jordan, about writing, her career and what winning the Richell Prize means to her.
Hello Simone! Congratulations on winning the Richell Prize this year, what a huge achievement – how does it feel? What has the past week been like for you, following the announcement?
Thank you so much! The announcement was a huge shock. It feels surreal but also on time. I often wondered when and if I’d be ready to tell my story. But, I know this is the right moment.
To think (the beginnings of) my memoir won the hearts and minds of the judges—over 850 other writers—is mind-blowing. So, this past week I’ve been letting it all sink in and thanking everyone for their support.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a Lebanese and Cypriot woman born and raised in Inner West Sydney, wife to the most patient man in the world (hey, DJ!) and mum to our beautiful, three-year-old Leila. My family are three generations deep here on Aboriginal land, so I straddle numerous cultures.
I’m a veteran music journalist with a lifelong devotion to Hip-Hop and R&B, and I’ve had a fantastic career with crazy highs and lows. I’m also a passionate anti-racism advocate and mentor, working closely with Media Diversity Australia as Director Of Special Projects and freelancing with Diversity Arts Australia. In addition, I run a consulting agency, Higher Ground, where I offer professional development for artists and creatives, focusing on First Nations and culturally diverse talent.
Oh, and I have big auntie energy! That’s what our interns say. Not sure if that makes me happy or sad.
How would you describe your current writing practice?
Honestly? I don’t believe I have one yet. It’s been quite manic, squeezing in time when I can. My resolution for 2022, especially since being rewarded this rare opportunity, is to take my career path as a writer seriously. I even treated myself to a fancy new desk and bought a gorgeous bar cart—all Art Deco-inspired because I love that period. I’ve become quite the mixologist (thanks, pandemic-inspired habits) because every scribe enjoys a tipple or three, do they not?
One thing I desperately want is to allow my writing to flow more freely because the Virgo in me over-edits like a motherfucker. I’ll tear my hair out over each word, agonise over every little detail. But, with the help of my incredible Hachette Australia mentor, Vanessa Radnidge, I’m determined to let loose the stories I have inside me. So that, and writing more descriptively, are my goals.
I’m very inspired to write when I’m physically adjacent to history. For example, we recently moved into an apartment that overlooks The Home of the Good Shepherd, an old convent and industrial school for women and girls opened by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd from 1913 till 1969. It’s a stunning building with an adjoining church, but it undoubtedly houses sombre stories. My aunty was sent there as a teenager in the Sixties due to bad behaviour. My own story seems more eager to pour out when the stories of others surround me.
What motivated you to enter the Richell Prize this year?
It was very much a “now or never” moment. I’d talked about writing my memoir for years but never had a structure in mind. Then, earlier this year (or was it last year? I’m in a coronavirus blur), I was profiled by rapper L-FRESH The Lion for Diversity Arts Australia’s Pacesetters series. After our excellent conversation, he pushed me to think deeper about the idea.
Then, as fate would have it, I stumbled upon The Richell Prize. My gut instinct told me that dedicating all my time to enter the contest would be worth it. When I saw the encouraging words from Hachette Australia (“Be brave, be bold, and submit your work”), I was sold. I bounced ideas back and forth with my best friend and family, came up with the title, enlisted two other friends as my editors, and crammed an intense month of writing in during our extended COVID-19 lockdown. I also drove everyone mad in the process. Love you guys!
You have had a wonderful and varied career as a writer, what made you want to write longform memoir now, after focusing on music journalism?
Thank you. I’m a glutton for punishment and always up for a challenge! Mostly though, I love guiding those coming after me because I never had solid instructions myself. So if they can take some life lessons from my journey, the effort will be worth it. Perhaps I am a big auntie after all.
What have you been reading, watching and listening to lately?
Reading: I’m making my way through Raphael Cormack’s Midnight In Cairo, with three of my favourite themes: the Middle East, the 1920s era, and women’s empowerment. I’ve also gone memoir mad, reading as many as I can get my hands on from centuries ago till now.
Watching: The last season of Insecure on Binge. I’m a history and horror nerd at heart, so I recently enjoyed Chapelwaite with Adrien Brody on Stan. Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Mohammed Ali on Netflix was excellent, and of course, anything from Ava DuVernay (right now, Colin In Black & White). She’ll direct the series or movie from my memoir, Insha’Allah!
Listening: Music-wise, I’m unashamedly trapped in the 90s. But I’m very impressed with our emerging local Hip-Hop and R&B talent, and try and keep up with new acts as much as possible. Podcasts right now, I enjoy Trapital, about the business of Hip-Hop, and author and journalist Danyel Smith’s #BlackGirlSongbook, which is gorgeous, warm, informative storytelling. Finally, I can’t wait for Nas and Miss Info’s ‘The Bridge’ podcast that celebrates 50 years of Hip-Hop coming on Spotify later this month. Funnily enough, I hosted and produced a podcast with the same name a few years back—which nobody heard.
Who are some writers you’re really excited by at the moment, emerging or otherwise?
Let me tell you when I read Cat Yen’s winning story (Minor Details) for this year’s SBS Voices Emerging Writers contest, I teared up. In the words of the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard, I like it raw—and this no-holds-barred, tender piece is as real as it gets. I love that the judges awarded her the top prize because she has a very bright future.
I’m also excited for two friends of mine, women I admire, dropping their debut books in the new year! First, look out for Media Diversity Australia’s Co-Founder, Antoinette Lattouf. She has How To Lose Friends & Influence White People (March 2022), which explores how to champion change and equality effectively. Also, our fellow journalist, Mawunyo Gbogbo, is releasing her beautiful memoir, Hip Hop & Hymns (June 2022).
Finally, where can we find you online?