Puberty Blues author honoured in autumn graduation celebration
Kathy Lette recognised for success and tireless advocacy for human rights.
While she is best known for her book Puberty Blues, author Kathy Lette is a fierce and tireless advocate for human rights with a quick wit and a zest for life.
In recognition of the success of her many novels and tireless advocacy in equality, human rights, and physical and mental health both nationally and internationally, Kathy Lette was today (Thursday 20 April) awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) from the University of Wollongong (UOW).
Her passion for writing is twofold.
“I only write because it’s cheaper than therapy! Oh and for revenge,” she said.
“You can always impale enemies on the end of your pen. Poetic justice is the only true justice – and I say that having been married to a lawyer for nearly three decades.”
Born and raised in Sydney’s southern suburbs of Sylvania, Sutherland and Cronulla by a Bulldogs rugby league playing engineer dad and a school principal teaching mum, Kathy started her foray into writing as a 15-year-old ‘surfie girl’ and member of the Salami Sisters, a group who sang about the ‘raw slice of life’.
She also had a newspaper column in the Sun-Herald by the age of 18.
Propelled into the spotlight at a young age following the release of her hugely popular novel, Puberty Blues, Kathy is a celebrated writer and one of the pioneering voices of contemporary feminism.
She spent several years as a newspaper columnist and television sitcom writer in Los Angeles and New York before making the move to London in 1988 to pursue her literary career.
She has written 13 international bestsellers, including Mad Cows, How to Kill Your Husband and Other Handy Household Hints and Girls’ Night Out, covering topics and issues that challenge the social norm.
Executive Dean of Law, Humanities and the Arts Professor Amanda Lawson, said Kathy’s work had strong connections with teaching and research in English literature and creative writing at UOW.
“Her commitment to human rights is mirrored in the investment in social justice that guides much of the pedagogy, scholarship, and creative work carried out by members of the English and writing discipline,” she said.
“The way in which her work includes and mixes together a number of different genres such as fiction, autobiography, and media commentary also has affinities with the research and practice of discipline members, who are uniformly interested in the overlaps between literature, contemporary everyday life, and popular culture.”
Kathy’s career highlights include teaching Stephen Fry a word, teaching Salman Rushdie the limbo and writing Julian Assange’s cameo in the 500th episode of The Simpsons.
“I wrote a scene in which Marge samples Julian’s barbecue marinade then asks for the recipe. Julian replies, ‘I’m sorry. But I never reveal my sauces,’” she said.
A self-professed ‘Shire Girl’, Kathy has a niece and nephew currently studying at UOW and said her happiest memories are to do with the Wollongong area.
“Every school holiday my family would snake our way down the coast in our over-laden Chevy. My sisters and I would explode from the car like champagne from a shaken bottle, squealing with delight as we raced for that beautiful beach.”
Kathy is an ambassador for Women and Children First, Plan International, the National Autistic Society and Ambitious About Autism, among others.
In August 2014, Kathy engaged with the Wollongong community at the Community Cancer Link’s Literary Luncheon, where, as guest speaker, she raised thousands of dollars and donated her fee to the Wollongong Hospital.
Her novel, Courting Trouble, uses humour to talk about sexual violence, in particular the shocking treatment the court system gives to rape victims in Britain and elsewhere.
While primarily fiction, her other most recent successful novel, The Boy Who Fell to Earth (2013), was based around her son Julius who has Asperger’s.
Her new novel, Best Laid Plans, tackles a taboo subject – sex for the differently abled. How does someone with autism fulfill their inalienable right to the pursuit of life, liberty and human sexual contact?
“You never see ‘differently abled’ people depicted in a strongly sexual context. They’re either pitied or inspirational.
'My own son Jules has Asperger’s, so I thought it was time I wrote a comic novel which examines a young autistic man’s experiences of sex, dating, disability and navigating sexual and romantic intimacy – and the bumpy emotional ride endured by his devoted Mum,” she said.
“I hope I’ve written it with wit and pith, as well as poignancy. And what I hope the reader will discover, is that when it comes to sex, we all have special needs.”
In 2004 Kathy was the London Savoy Hotel’s Writer in Residence, where a cocktail named after her can still be ordered.
She regularly contributes to Australian media spheres, with appearances on morning shows and radio segments, and her ongoing opinion pieces in The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, Woman’s Day, The Weekend Australian Magazine, and the Canberra Times.
Her parting advice for aspiring authors is simple: “Have something to say, and an original way to say it.”