Last month, we sent Rem Mussry (16) to be our first ever Teen Rep at the Sydney Writers’ Festival All Day YA event. Check out their thoughts on the day below. Thanks for your work Rem!
6:30AM is freezing. I usually wake up later than this, so I don’t experience the frost inducing weather. But this is no usual day. This is All Day YA at the Sydney Writers’ Fest. After a long commute, I finally arrived at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. I meet up with a friend to go to the first panel of the day together.
‘D14’ isn’t exactly the sidelines but it was my seat number for my first panel, ‘From the Sidelines’. Featuring Tamar Chnorhokian, Sarah Ayoub and Patrick Ness. There was deep discussion on this panel about what it means to be an author writing from the perspective of a member of a minority. Ayoub and Chnorhokian are both women of middle eastern background, and Ness is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The panel discussed representation of minorities in the media, the importance of intersectionality, defying stereotypes when it comes to portraying minorities, the topic of Own Voices, and when is it appropriate to write from a marginalised perspective that isn’t your own? At the end of the panel I went to speak to Sarah. Being middle eastern myself, I thanked her for her input and celebration of her culture, telling her of our close heritage and her exclaiming how she’d never met an Iraqi Jew before. But in times like these it’s important to remember we are all the same.
The next panel was ‘Burn the Burn Book’, a highly anticipated panel of the day, discussing womanhood and the female experience in life and the YA world. On this panel were Alicia Tuckerman, Rebecca Lim, Jenna Guillaume and Tara Eglington in conversation with Youth Curator Kellie Phan. The panellists spoke of personally experienced misogyny and how their experiences as women have shaped their work. Each author presented themselves very differently and came from different backgrounds, but their stories shared common threads. One of the questions raised was how someone could avoid stereotyping women in books. The consensus was that it was important to fit in with the context of the novel, whilst putting forward an unpredictable character.
Next up was ‘The Personal is Political’, which spoke of misogyny and keeping appearances, trying to navigate the clash of relationships and political beliefs, the strength to stand up for your own personal beliefs, and each of the panellist’s own experiences with politics and personal life intertwining, and how this had affected their work. Randa Abdel-Fattah discussed her work interviewing Islamophobes and anti-refugee campaigners for her new book, and how confronting that experience was, while Alice Pung told the story of the bullying she and her brother faced in school, being called, “’Yellow’, but then The Simpsons came out and it was cool to be yellow”. She then turned to Randa and said, “It used to be us (Asians) but now it’s you (Muslims)”, in regard to copping racism. I approached Randa after to thank her for telling her story and from one Zionist to a Palestinian, I believed in her right to exist and to feel safe.
We took a lunch break, me eating a tasty vegan burger surrounded by the line to meet Jay Kristoff. By this point, I was incredibly pumped for the next panel, ‘#poetrydebate: Who Takes the Crown’. This was my favourite panel of the day, with Evelyn Araluen and Omar Musa battling it out in a poetry debate, throwing around the questions of whether technology is shaping poetry for the better or worse, whether schools are teaching the right kind of poetry, and whether poets should tell other people’s stories. When walking into the room for this panel, there were photos of each of the panellists on a double-sided sheet of paper on each seat. When each poet was finished their debate, the audience was to raise their card with who they think won. At one point, Evelyn made a joke saying anyone who didn’t vote for her was racist, and I was so distracted taking notes for this piece that I had Omar’s picture up still and caught flak for it! I ended up talking to them after, explaining the situation and thanking them for the power that lies in their work.
Last up was TeenCon. Will Kostakis, freshly back from the US, hosted this magnificent event where those present got the scoop on the latest and most anticipated YA books from a range of publishers, including cover reveals and fresh #LoveOzYA releases. Will kept the humour up while doing his best to give away the endless pile of books on the stage floor. Audience engagement rocketed at this event, everyone eager to win a book or two. One of the most controversial moments of TeenCon was the gender flipping game, where members of each of the publishing houses had to flip the gender of a character in a book. The term ‘flipped’ left a few people irked whilst no one thought to suggest a gender non-conforming individual. That was, until Jes Layton (#LoveOzYA’s live tweeter for the event @AGeekwithaHat), brought this up at the Q&A, asking when we would see more trans-inclusive books in the YA market. Apparently, there’s a gap in the market and the publishing houses are on the lookout for trans books by trans people, but where is the support for this?
The evening over, it seemed it was time to go home. By the time I left, it was dark out, groups were off to dinner, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have experienced such an emotionally and intellectually intense day and for being exposed to magical stories and beautiful perspectives. This AllDayYA will stay with me a long time.
I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was presented with this year. Thank you to the #LoveOzYA crew!
Our pleasure, Rem! Huge thanks to Sydney Writers’ Festival for sponsoring this experience.
Tags: alldayya, ausqueerya, getyawordsout, loveozya, readlocal, sydneywritersfestival, yabooks, yalit, yareads, youngadult, youngadultbooks, youngadultfiction, youngadultreads