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Behind the Story with Sofija Stefanovic

The stories you read in memoirs and biographies are often the most brave and compelling.

We asked the six authors shortlisted for the 2019 National Biography Award to share the most surprising thing they learnt about themselves or their subjects.


Sofija Stefanovic

Sofija Stefanovic

Miss Ex-Yugoslavia (Penguin Books Australia)

My book is about growing up as an immigrant kid in Australia, while my home-country falls apart. I was born in Yugoslavia – a country that no longer exists – and I'm a very nostalgic person, so I knew my book would explore memory, nostalgia, and the idea of "home".

Themes of immigration and being an outsider have always interested me, so I wasn't surprised that my book has a lot of "fish out of water" content; me flapping around in various situations, trying to work out who I am, and how I fit in. In this book, in sometimes dark, sometimes funny ways, I explore my immigrant identity, and I think it's something many people who have felt themselves on the periphery of the mainstream will identify with. 

Something I didn't expect to keep coming up as I was writing my memoir was my yearning to be an artist. As a kid, I wanted to be a writer, but I had English as a second language, I didn't write or express myself in ways I thought were "writerly". I didn't think that there was space for me as an immigrant woman in the world of storytelling. And in my memoir, I keep going back to this yearning, and the creative journeys my imagination took me on, through the years. Until I finally did become confident enough to express myself, and to believe my voice matters.

Another thing – I am interested in the idea of "home", and I guess I hoped writing a memoir would help me work out what home means to me. Is my home Yugoslavia (a country that no longer exists)? Belgrade, where I was born, but I feel like a foreigner? Australia where I never felt like an "Aussie"? New York, where I now live? And actually, the conclusion I came to is that home isn't a real place for me. I live a lot in my mind, and in my memories, and I think I've built up the Belgrade of my childhood, my "home" as it was then, as being more magical than it was. It's a fantasy. I've come to the conclusion that my "home" is comprised of memories that are precious to me, I carry it inside me wherever I am, but it is not linked to a geographical place. And that takes some pressure off, to be honest.

Read the judges' comments and view the shortlist here