Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MWF 2011: Politics in YA

From the MWF Program: Characters in Lili and Penny's books have their eyes truly opened to the power of politics for the first time, be it in Washington DC on the eve of Obama's inauguration, or via some difficult choices much closer to home. Come and hear these two leading authors discuss the explosive combination of fiction and politics.

Tony Thompson, Penny Tangey & Lili Wilkinson

So after a quick break, I was off to another session - this time to hear Penny Tangey and Lili Wilkinson talk about politics in young adult fiction. I was really looking forward to this session (possibly more so than any other during the festival). Once again, the even was chaired by Tony Thompson. To begin, Tony likened Clara in Washington to Alice in Wonderland, which I thought was a really interesting and insightful comparison.
  • Penny began by speaking about her interest in politics and political movements (starting with an assignment in primary school about the sufragettes). Though Penny said she doesn't necessarily like speaking about politics, she does enjoy writing about it and like most of us, is interested in standing up for what you believe in.
  • Penny also spoke about her research for Clara in Washington, including joining the DC Anarchists mailing group and shared a rather amusing exchange that occured online.
  • I loved something Penny said in discussing anarchism - that anarchists "see the world as flawed and don't accept that" and that they want to do better, which I think (in theory) is really admirable.
  • Lili then spoke about writing Pink and about the perceptions of political books/books with political issues as being something very serious. She made the excellent point that there are books out there that are pink, sparkly and funny and very political, like Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries.
  • "I am passionate about writing books that are pink ... and have something to say"
  • Lili wrote Pink following some discussion David Levithan about writing about adolescent sexuality, and Lili spoke about having not read books where the teen protagonists weren't sure of their sexual preference and who didn't necessarily 'tick a box'.
  • What I thought was the most interesting strand of discussion was about the lack of political books written for a teen audience, and there are few contemporary YA titles with teen characters who are political (please note the emphasis on contemporary, as dystopian YA like the Hunger Games trilogy is incredibly political) - even less so in Australian YA, with Clara in Washington being the first/only Australian YA title to reference the 2008 presidental election. What's also noteworthy is that both Clara and a story that Lili is currently working on, both centre around Australian characters and politics, but are set in the US.
  • Lili also spoke about her PhD, which examines fandom and political activism in teens (which I found to be hugely interesting - partly because, and I think I mentioned it here before that my own major undergraduate essay was about television fandom, activism and social media). She talked about groups like the Harry Potter Alliance (who are extremely awesome and I urge you to check this out if you don't know about it) and YA for Obama.
  • Both Penny and Lili spoke about the possible dangers in writing about politics (such as sounding preachy to a teen reader) but through using humour, a variety of voices to highlight differing opinions and writing in an interesting way, were able to avoid this.
Another really great session - actually, I tweeted afterwards that it was my favourite so far. Again, Tony Thompson did a fantastic job chairing, and it was great to have the opportunity to hear two authors I adore speak about such a relevant and engaging issue.

You can read my review of Clara in Washington here (and enter my giveaway, which I'm extending until September 2nd), and I've also reviewed Lili Wilkinson's Pink.


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