Profile: Lang Leav

Published on 6 January 2015

From refugee to poet, Lang Leav’s personal story touches as deeply as her poetry.

BY pamela ho

If you’ve ever loved or lost, yearned or let go, you’ll find yourself somewhere in Lang Leav’s poetry.

It is her uncanny ability to put these complex emotions into simple words that has propelled her verse-filled anthologies — Love & Misadventure (2013) and Lullabies (2014) — to the top of bestseller lists around the world.

“I think love is universal,” Leav declares. “I’m not afraid to delve into all the aspects of love, even the darkest areas. I started by writing from my own experience, but like all writers, I also write from imagination and empathy.”

Prior to her successful book career, this art graduate was a fashion designer, artist (her drawings are featured in her books), and a maker of handcrafted books.

“But even with my art and fashion label, there’s always a strong narrative behind it, there is always storytelling,” she muses. “It just happens that my poetry has overtaken all of that, which is wonderful because it’s always been my first love.”

As a teenager, Leav used to handwrite her poems in handmade notebooks and pass them around school. At 14, she won her first prize for poetry. “I remember it was a poem about nightmares!” she chuckles.

Leav grew up as a first-generation immigrant in Australia. Her family escaped the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and she was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. To put Leav and her two brothers through school, her mother worked as a seamstress while her father practised acupuncture.

“Coming from a war-torn country, you look for stability; so careers like medicine or law were the only ones acceptable,” Leav contemplates. “But I was always fascinated with creativity and art! It was definitely against the grain but I followed that. It was a calling.”

Some poems take her a moment to write, others take years. Leav catalogues unfinished works in her head, often without writing them down. “Good lines will stick. When the time is right, the poem will find me. It sort of taps me on the shoulder!”

Leav is currently working on a new book of poetry and a novel. When pressed for its genre, she grins cheekily, “Not murder mystery!” In truth, it’s a romance novel. And Leav has plans to collaborate with her partner, Michael Faudet (also a writer), on a novella. For now, though, they live quietly in New Zealand, in a forest of twisted trees by the sea.

Lang Leav’s latest book, Lullabies, is available at all major bookstores.

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