westword

22 May 2008

westword has a busy week!

Filed under: Uncategorized — westword @ 11:53 pm

It’s the Sydney Writers’ Festival this week, which makes it a very busy week for me—which paradoxically means I am not going to make it to many Festival events, alas!

The week kicked off for me with the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards dinner, held on Monday night at the Art Gallery of NSW. I was thrilled that James Roy won the Ethel Turner prize for young people’s literature for his marvellous collection of inter-related short stories, Town. Town is one of my favourite YA books from 2007, and I’m glad that it has received its due recognition by this award. (Town is also a CBCA Notable Book.)

The Patricia Wrightson prize for children’s literature went to The Peasant Prince, a picture book based on on Li Cunxin‘s Mao’s Last Dancer, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas.

Tuesday night I chaired a Sydney Writers’ Festival session at Max Webber Library in Blacktown. The panel was on speculative fiction, and featured writers D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo), David Kowalski (The Company of the Dead—not intended for younger readers, but many teens will enjoy this lengthy and complex alternate history) and editor of Aurealis magazine Stuart Mayne.

I wrote an account of the Premier’s lit awards dinner and the spec fiction panel on my personal blog: follow the links if you’d like to read about both events in more detail.

My days have been busy too. On Tuesday, I attended the Western Sydney region‘s primary principal’s meeting with Terry O’Keefe, the children’s services librarian from Blacktown City Library. Terry spoke about the work of public libraries, the changing nature of young people’s use of libraries and future directions for the way the library might work with and for young people.

It was also an opportunity for me to talk to the principals about the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project, the first time many of them had heard about it. They were very positive and supportive in their response, and gave some good suggestions about how the project might work with their schools.

Terry and I also had the chance to talk together about some joint projects—we’ve got a very exciting idea we hope to get up in Term 4 this year—too soon to publish details, but we’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, I spoke about the project at a teacher librarian’s network meeting (also Western Sydney region). There were about 80 TLs at the meeting, and again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. These, of course, are the people at the coalface of bringing young people and books together, and they had a lot to say on a number of issues: the value of access to arts programs for their students, but also the problems associated with the cost of bringing authors and illustrators into their schools. The affordability and sheer logistical challenges associated with organising excursions. The hole left by the end of the Nestlé Write Around Australia creative writing competition. That an interactive website would be both welcomed and made use of—we all agree that schools and libraries need to embrace Web 2.0 in ways that adhere to principles of child protection and safety, but also reflects young people’s engagement with technology and multi-media.

The teacher librarians also had some really practical suggestions about communication and promotion of events and programs, and were very clear that this blog would be a useful resource and information centre for them, at least until the project has its own website, and I am able to set up better communication systems. I have taken that in board, along with a few specific requests for author resources, which I will be posting here very soon.

Tonight (Thursday) was the launch of the project’s advisory board member (and mover-and-shaker!) Libby Gleeson‘s new novel Mahtab’s Story. This wonderful novel was inspired by the stories of young Afghani refugee women, who Libby met at Holroyd High School, and was launched by the NSW Governor, Professor Marie Bashir.

As we have come to expect, Professor Bashir spoke with great warmth and sincerity about Mahtab’s Story, about the renewed optimism and positivity in Australian public life, and the potential our country now has to have an influential voice in world politics regarding dispossessed and oppressed peoples. She spoke about the quality of Libby’s writing, and the way Mahtab’s Story demolishes stereotypes we in the west may have about Muslim people—women in particular. (Here, she referred to the fictional Mahtab’s admiration for her great-aunt, a doctor, in whose shoes she hopes to tread.)

Libby spoke strongly about the dignity of the young Muslim women she worked with in the research and preparation for her novel, and this was made evident by the speech made by Nahid, the young Afghani woman whose story most informed and influenced the writing of the novel.

But as moving as Libby’s and Professor Bashir’s comments were, the words of the Nahid actually had me in tears.

Nahid, who is now 21, arrived in Australia in September 2001—as she said, the historical, social and political nadir for Muslim Australians. Nahid and her family were held in detention on their arrival—now, after graduating through the intensive language centre and then the mainstream educational program at Holroyd High, Nahid is now studying medical science at the University of Western Sydney.

Nahid said that from her the earliest years of her childhood in Afghanistan, she believed in equality for all people, especially women, and spoke about how she intends to fulfil all her personal goals—not primarily for herself, but for those young Afghani women left behind who at this point in time cannot hope to pursue any kind of formal education.

Such grace, such compassion and empathy.

Mahtab’s Story is, I think, a wonderful example of the aims of the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project, and I recommend it, both as a fine novel and a lucid expression of the true heart of multiculturalism and inclusion in Australia.

Finally, if any westword readers are at a loose end around 7 pm tomorrow night (Friday 23 May), can I suggest you make your way to the Workshop Showroom in St Peters in the inner west to attend the Sydney launch of Leigh Rigozzi and and Benny Walter‘s “Below Tree Level” project. Leigh is the artist who conducted the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project’s first event—the zine workshop previously blogged here at westword.

More soon—but here’s a photo from the Mahtab’s Story launch:

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