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Lech Blaine named Charles Perkins Centre 2023 Writer in Residence


This article is sponsored by the University of Sydney. Authorised by Vice-Chancellor and President Prof. Mark Scott. Enquiries: 9351 2000; info.centre@sydney.edu.au

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Journalist Lech Blaine, author of Car Crash: A Memoir and Quarterly Essay “Top Blokes”, will join the Charles Perkins Centre as the 2023 Judy Harris Writer in Residence.

Blaine will begin his residency at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre in the latter half of the year, where he will spend 12 months at the Camperdown campus working alongside global health researchers and educators.

Now in its seventh year, the residency awards writers $100,000 and the opportunity to explore some of the Charles Perkins Centre’s major areas of focus, including the global mission to ease the burden of diabetes, obesity, ageing and cardiovascular disease.

Blaine will study the heart and the brain and the ability of diet and exercise to improve the condition of both. He will also contemplate the ethics of genetic editing and euthanasia.

“The thing that always really stood out to me about the Judy Harris Writer in Residence Fellowship was this incredible opportunity to work with leading health experts and researchers,” he said. “And the potential to create prose from that collaboration.

“In my writing, I deal with some lofty topics, so to have experts and researchers around that don’t find conversations about tough subjects awkward or taboo is invaluable,” Blaine said.

“It will be exciting to talk to them, strip away the stigma and soak up their insights and expertise. The fellowship is a totally mind-blowing honour. My gratitude is huge.”

The Sydney-based author, who was born and raised in regional Queensland, is a writer of narrative non-fiction. His debut book, Car Crash: A Memoir, was released in 2021 to much acclaim and details his experience as the teenage survivor of a car crash that killed three of his best friends.

Blaine’s second book, Australian Gospel, about the biological parents of his foster siblings, will be published in April 2024. He will use the residency to work on a third work of creative non-fiction about hereditary illness, family businesses, and the complex legacies of love.

“As a country, we need to break through the taboos about illness, disability and ageing, so that Australians can live and die with dignity,” he said. “Governments won’t adequately fund our health systems without public conversation and pressure. However, we’re also lucky enough to live in a time of rapid medical advancements, thanks to people like the ones who I will be learning from.”

In 2011, when Blaine was 19, his diabetic father passed away at the age of 61 from a major stroke – “a build-up of lifestyle choices and genetic predisposition”. A couple of years later, his mother was admitted to a nursing home after being diagnosed with an incurable neurodegenerative illness. She died in 2018 at the age of 64.

“While my mum was dying, I was running the three-star motel in Bundaberg that my dad had been leasing,” he said. “It was like Fawlty Towers meets Wake in Fright. Even in the midst of existential despair, life can be unbelievably funny and colourful. To be alive is such a wonderful gift. The book will try to capture that range of experiences and emotions.”

Blaine joins a list of acclaimed Australian writers to be awarded the generous – and unique – fellowship. Poet and editor Sarah Holland-Batt, the centre’s current Writer in Residence, started her tenure in March 2022. She was recently awarded the prestigious $60,000 Stella prize for her poetry collection The Jaguar, which “tenderly” explores her father’s death from Parkinson’s Disease.

Stephen Simpson, academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre, said: “Lech is an incredible writer with an important story to tell. The Writer in Residence program, generously funded by our donor and Patron Judy Harris, is a transformative fellowship that enables the transfer of knowledge and insight between artists and the centre’s broad research community.

“The calibre of writers that apply for this program is nothing short of exceptional. I am delighted that Lech is joining us and I look forward to working with him as he unpacks, with caring and curiosity, some of the great health challenges and questions that shape us as individuals – and our society.”

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