Three Minute Squiz With… Jamila Rizvi

An author, presenter, political commentator and mother. She’s advised a prime minister, hosted radio shows and edited a couple of excellent books. But if we had to pick our favourite fun fact about her, it’s that she’d seat her Nan next to RuPaul at her fantasy dinner party. Please welcome Jamila Rizvi to the Three Minute Squiz.

How and where do you Squiz?
On my phone in bed! There’s nobody I’d rather wake up to (and also my husband sleeps late).

What star sign are you and what store do you put in that stuff anyway?
I’m a Pisces and I set absolutely no store by that stuff. So much so that I had to look up how to spell Pisces.

What was the first album you ever bought?
Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill. I was 10-years-old and had saved up for weeks to buy it. Then my mum saw the explicit language warning on the cover, marched me back to Sanity and made me exchange it for something else. I think the replacement album was Tina Arena, Chains.

Your latest literary effort is The Motherhood, a book of letters that has been compiled and edited by you. It’s famous Australian mothers writing to themselves about the first three months of life with a newborn. What was the motivation for the book?
I found the early months of parenthood incredibly challenging. So much of my sense of self was tied up in my work and without that, I felt isolated and unsure in my new role of ‘mum’. When I’m confused, I always turn to books but the more I looked, the more I came up empty-handed.

There are countless books written about new motherhood that are all about the baby but barely any that are about the mother and her transition to a new life. With The MotherhoodI wanted to help change that, giving new mothers a tool to navigate the transition from woman to mother.

While we’re on the subject of books you’ve written, last year’s effort was the best-selling Not Just Lucky*Give us the elevator pitch. You’ve got twenty seconds. Go!
Australian women are suffering from a crisis of confidence about work. Accustomed to being overlooked and undervalued, even when women do get to the top, they explain their success away as ‘luck’. But it’s not. My book exposes the structural and cultural disadvantages that rob women of their confidence often without them even realising it.

It’s an unashamedly feminist career manifesto is for the women who worry they’ll look greedy if they ask for more money. It’s for women who dream big but dread the tough conversations. It’s for women who get nervous, stressed and worried, and seem to overthink just about everything. Women just like myself.

What’s your desert island disc?
I can’t take an iPod? Does this island exist in some cruel place on the time-space-continuum where I can’t get Spotify? Oh okay, if I absolutely have to pick one Carole King, Tapestry.

Among the current crop, who’s your favourite world leader right now, and why?
It’s hard to go past Jacinda Ardern, who is absolutely carving it up on the other side of the pond. I’m excited by the sense of possibility she brings for doing politics differently and putting compassion at the centre of her work.

If you were convening the perfect dinner party, which five people (living or dead, famous or not) would you invite and what would you serve as the pre-dinner drink?
I’d have Beyonce, Cleopatra, Hillary Clinton, Ru Paul (in drag of course because this is a girls’ night), and my Nan, who was calm, kind, rational and ahead of her time in so many ways. She died a few years back and I miss her, plus she’d save everyone from my terrible cooking.

You were once an advisor to the Rudd and Gillard governments. A few questions here: 1. What was your advice? 2. Was it heeded? 3. What were the most important professional lessons you took from your time in Canberra?
1. I can’t remember, I was too tired. When I worked for Kevin my alarm was set for 3.15am each day so I was permanently exhausted. It’s all a bit of a blur to be honest.

2. You win some, you lose some.

3. Never underestimate the Australian public. Don’t lie. Don’t bullsh*t them. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. They’ve got you figured out and that’s actually a good thing.

Your dulcet tones can often be heard on ABC Radio. What do you love most about the medium of radio?
Not having to get my makeup and hair done. Seriously. Television is a wonderful platform for reaching a large audience but the focus on the visual is both frustrating and furiously time consuming. Equally, having the freedom of time and space during a radio interview makes it my absolute favourite medium. There’s nothing better than being able to cut a dull interview short or keep speaking for ages with someone who is particularly interesting. Radio was made for nosy people like me, who ask too many questions. I love writing, of course, but radio is more immediate and exciting. There is a thrill to being live.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
I wish I could sing and my family really, really wish I could sing. I sing a lot to myself around the house and there’s an enormous lack of appreciation for my abilities.

What word or phrase do you most overuse?
JUST. I insert the word ‘just’ into ‘just’ about every sentence ‘just’ like I’m doing now.

Who is/are your favourite writer/s and which book of theirs do you recommend?
That’s like asking me to pick a favourite child. Impossible. I’d much prefer to give you a top 10 For today let’s choose The Joy Luck Clubby Amy Tan, which is an exquisite exploration of the migrant experience and also the experience of migrants’ children growing up between cultures. Amy Tan is a beautiful story teller. I love all her books.

What would you say is the most overrated virtue?
Meekness. Who says they deserve to inherit the earth? Personally, I’d prefer the bold were in charge.

What qualities do you most value in a friend?
Loyalty, humour, intelligence and kindness.

You’ve crammed a lot into what would appear to have been a relatively short time on this mortal coil. Two questions: 1. What’s the rush? and 2. Of your achievements, of which are you most proud?
1. I hate to break it to you but eventually, we’re all going to die – and there is lots I want to do. You have to rush if you’re going to fit it all in.

2. My son, Rafi. Despite my messy, exhausted, often ridiculous parenting, he is growing up to be such a great kid. His dad deserves most of the credit for that but I’ll claim pride nonetheless.

*We love The Joy Luck Club too, but you should use these links to buy Jamila’s books. And we get a little commission from Booktopia. Win-win-win.

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