Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 9, 2016

Vale Inga Clendinnen (1934 – 2016)

I am indebted to Michelle at Adventures in Biography for the sad news that Inga Clendinnen AO, FAHA died yesterday, aged 82.

Clendinnen was many things to many people: an author and historian, an anthropologist and academic, but to me she was the writer who showed me how to look at Australia’s Black History differently, in her wonderful work, Dancing with Strangers (2003).  Her legacy is the thousands of people who read this book and whose ideas were reshaped by her insights.

Later, I read her earlier work, Reading the Holocaust (1998) and again, found my ideas and interpretations reshaped by a different way of looking things.  It was uncanny the way she explored long-held perspectives, always with respect, and yet found a way to identify the human embodiment within the incomprehensible inhumanity of the Holocaust.

After that, I read her memoir of being critically ill, Tiger’s Eye (2000) and have never forgotten it.  It guided my response to encountering very serious illness amongst friends and family because it taught me always to remember that the person is not the illness.

(I read her essay collection Agamemnon’s Kiss (2007) too.  It was interesting, but not life-changing.  And I took no interest in the spat with Kate Grenville over the Quarterly Essay in which she reprimanded Grenville for her hubristic claims about empathy and historical fiction.)

No other author other than Germaine Greer has impacted on my ways of dealing with my world in the way that Inga Clendinnen did.  Her works live on.



  1. You’ve beautifully captured the way Clendinnen made us see things differently. Thank you.


    • I just loved those books she wrote, it’s such a loss…


  2. A lovely tribute Lisa – what better legacy can a writer like Inga have than be remembered by a reader for making them look at ideas, issues, history or events in a different way? I have quite a few of her works (and agree Dancing with Strangers is life changing) and that infamous Quarterly Essay:) Australian writing is richer for her contributions.


    • It’s strange, I’m feeling this loss quite personally. ..
      I was listening today to Germaine Greer talking about the death of Richard Neville, and it crossed my mind that I had never taken the trouble to write to her to thank her for the changes she made to my life. Which were really changes that I felt empowered to make, because she made me think differently. The great thinkers of our time make a difference in ways they cannot know.


  3. Thanks Lisa, this reminds me that I should comment more regularly. Thank you for your insights and your generosity in sharing, not only your amazing knowledge and experience in literature but your insights into the way writers change the world. Inga Clendinnen was one of those. I read your posts always and learn so much from them. Thank you again for putting the time and effort into what you do.


    • Oh, thank you, that is so nice of you to say that, it has made my day:)


  4. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful writer. I just loved the way Clendinnen chose words carefully and made her prose sing, whatever she was writing about. I haven’t read ‘Dancing with Strangers’ but I’ll make sure to search for it. Sad that she’s gone.


    • It was quite astonishing that she wrote so cogently across different issues: her original area of expertise was the Aztecs (and it would be interesting to chase up her early book about them) but she came to represent freshness and intellectual rigour in whatever she chose to write about.


  5. Lisa, a lovely tribute. It is sad news that Inga Clendinnen has passed away. Like you, I fell in love with her writing, after reading Tiger’s Eye. It is a great pity that she had so few books published.


    • In a world awash with medical memoirs, Tiger’s Eye was a standout. The standout, for me.
      Yes, I wish we had more, but the good thing is that everything she wrote bears re-reading:)


  6. […] Lisa’s of ANZLitLovers […]


  7. I’ve only read Reading the Holocaust so far, but you described my reaction to it perfectly with your words.

    I’ve been saving her other works for when I’m less busy, but I’m not sure I can hold off now.

    Thanks for such a lovely tribute.


    • It would be lovely to have a recent review of the ones you haven’t read:)

      Liked by 1 person

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