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Episode 18 – Librarian’s choice

Leonee Derr

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This episode I am joined by Leonee Derr, who, for the last 20 years has dedicated her work-life to serving and supporting community – particularly those under-served, under-represented and those most experiencing marginalisation. She has worked in public libraries for the last 14 years with the majority of her advocacy focussed on amplifying voices of youth and young adults. In 2012 she received a scholarship to travel the world gathering evidence, doing research and participating in work placements. Her research explored how physical space and place, architecture and its design, create an atmosphere that signifies inclusion or exclusion to young people.  

Leonee has used her passion and voice to share important and crucial ideas about radical librarianship, social justice having a place in libraries, the myth of neutrality and safety amongst many other topics around the world presenting at conferences and publishing papers. Most recently, she and 4 other library leaders wrote the paper Who Do We Think We Are? Understanding Diversity in the Victorian Public Library Workforce. 

Leonee is currently on a sabbatical from public libraries focussing on writing and storytelling to build community in her role as a content producer for a fortune 500 company. 

She was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me about her proudest project, diversity and neutrality in libraries, uplifting humanity and amplifying voices of marginalised communities and then she picked some excellent books to review and pair!

There was some passionate swearing involved in this conversation so maybe listen with your headphones on 😉

The pairings: 

One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice’.

Gabriel García Márquez’s great masterpiece is the story of seven generations of the Buendía family and of Macondo, the town they have built. Though little more than a settlement surrounded by mountains, Macondo has its wars and disasters, even its wonders and its miracles. A microcosm of Columbian life, its secrets lie hidden, encoded in a book, and only Aureliano Buendía can fathom its mysteries and reveal its shrouded destiny. Blending political reality with magic realism, fantasy and comic invention, One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most daringly original works of the twentieth century. 

Leonee suggested reading this wonderful classic with a Red Vermouth on ice with a squeeze and slice of fresh lime. The vermouth has a saccharine sweetness reminiscent of flowers just before they rot and the lime gives it a sharp, citrus tang to cut through. This drink also has the alcoholic kick you’ll likely need for this sweeping, original and classic of stories 😉

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.

Winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2020 – for Fiction, People’s Choice and Book of the Year
Shortlisted The Stella Prize 2020
Shortlisted Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2020
Longlisted Miles Franklin Literary Award 2020

The only thing Leonee could imagine drinking whilst reading this book is a calming Chamomile Tea. It helps that you can let it go cold when you get caught up in the story!


Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In the 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: it is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country’s foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war, and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up and killed in the streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer those questions, presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son-and readers-the story of his own awakening to the truth about history and race through a series of revelatory experiences: immersion in nationalist mythology as a child; engagement with history, poetry and love at Howard University; travels to Civil War battlefields and the South Side of Chicago; a journey to France that reorients his sense of the world; and pilgrimages to the homes of mothers whose children’s lives have been taken as American plunder. Taken together, these stories map a winding path towards a kind of liberation-a journey from fear and confusion, to a full and honest understanding of the world as it is.

Masterfully woven from lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me offers a powerful new framework for understanding America’s history and current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Justine suggests pouring yourself a long, cold vodka, and soda with a squeeze and slice or two of fresh lime – a drink that is easy and refreshing when reading difficult words.  


This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.