Q&A with Rico Craig

A headshot of writer Rico Craig. There is a square grayscale photograph of Rico. He is looking down and his gaze is averted to his left side. His hair looks slightly windswept and he is wearing thick black square glasses.Rico is dressed in a black and white logo t-shirt with a black jacket over the top. This square photo is superimposed on a background featuring a phone screen in landscape orientation. The phone screen is set to a camera app displaying a close up of grey tiles with a blurred effect. The top of the screen reads ‘THE SUBURBAN REVIEW ISSUE #17 THEFT.’

RICO CRAIG is a teacher, writer, and award-winning poet whose work melds the narrative, lyrical, and cinematic. Craig is published widely; his poetry collection BONE INK was winner of the Anne Elder Award in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in 2018. To find his recent writing, visit ricocraig.com.

Our Associate Editor and Media Manager Maya Pilbrow interviews Rico Craig about his fiction piece ‘Thursday’ for #17 THEFT.

‘Thursday’ starts off with almost trance-like narration, while the latter half of the piece is filled with dialogue that is both minimalistic and incredibly naturalistic. Tell us about how you crafted this specific voice.

I was trying to set up a contrast between the internal voice of the character and the way the character appears to the world. There’s something hypnotic about the detachment young people are often required to embody as they negotiate the strictures of school and peer relationships. The opening section is trying to convey that feeling, which I think is so familiar to kids as they move through the strange world of school. Young people are asked to interact with the world in a lot of different ways, I’m really interested in how that plays out in a written text, what these shifts look like on the page and how the repetitions and patterns of speech sound.

Why did you decide to write this story from a child’s point of view? 

This extract is part of a longer, novel-length story that digs into the lives of teens in the western suburbs of Sydney. A lot of what the novel is about is noticing the alternate ways the day-to-day world can be perceived and lived. Young people are interesting for a whole heap of reasons, but I find it particularly fascinating that young people are often either ignored or relentlessly monitored. I wanted to write a book that explored both of those sides. Young people are so adept at repurposing the time that they’re ignored; I’m sure adults would like to believe that ignoring kids robs them of power and agency but often I think the opposite happens, that time that adults believe is dead time is actually being remade by kids and they’re discovering new things there that adults didn’t know existed. The extract is a pretty genuine representation of some of the ideas that play out across the longer work—in essence the alternate world perceived and lived by these kids is the world that they’ve made in the time that they’re ignored, all of that empty time in a kid’s life is repurposed and remade so completely that it becomes another reality that can be lived. You can see that alternate reality starting to peek through in some of the descriptions in this extract—the strange colour of Alex’s shoes, the odd moments captured in the opening scene.

The police officers in this piece have a subtly threatening presence, which I think speaks to the reality of encounters with law enforcement for many people. Can you tell us about how ‘Thursday’ frames the relationship between children, cops, and criminality?

I guess for me this is the flip side of the previous question, there are also times when adults bring their power to bear on kids. And of course, this comes in many forms of injustice and inequality. One of the ways it most obviously, and often, appears is in the relationship between police and kids. This appears often in my work, years ago I wrote a poem called ‘Angelo’ about a kid in 80s western Sydney who stole a car and ended up being shot by the police. The poem is based on a real event, a real death, a real life lost. The kid’s name was Angelo Tsakos, his death stuck with me and I think stuck with a lot of young people in the suburbs of Sydney. We knew there were things cops could do to us if they noticed us, we knew that there were consequences for being young. After Angelo was killed, graffiti started going up everywhere in the western suburbs, always black, always three words: ‘cops killed tsakos’. It stayed in place for years, like the suburbs were mourning. The scene at the end of this extract tries to capture that friction that often exists between cops and kids, the menace of cops and the way kids work to unpick the power that’s confronting them.