Ask Alice: What impact has #LoveOzYA had on the Australian literary scene?
Ask Alice is an online column produced by the #LoveOzYA team, and written by our Secretary, Alice Boer, who has published several young adult fantasy novels and a non-fiction essay under the name A.B Endacott.
Ask Alice is designed to unpack all aspects of the Australian young adult literary scene, so if you’ve got a question, go ahead and Ask Alice!
Here at #LoveOzYA, we’re chronic navel gazers.
Lately, we’ve had a very valid and exciting reason to stare at our belly buttons (What is it, you ask? Patience, patience. . . ), and while we can’t reveal the full extent of these ruminations, I can say they’ve involved taking a necessary step back to ask ourselves:
What has been the impact of #LoveOzYA on the Australian literary scene?
To help answer that question, I reached out to some Australian young adult authors and asked them what they thought. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were some commonalities across the responses we received.
#LoveOzYA . . . raises the profile of Australian young adult fiction.
The most popular response we received to our question was that we as an organisation have raised the profile of Australian young adult fiction.
Kate O’Donnell, author of This One is Ours, which was a longlisted ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children harked back to the broader profile-raising effort which has gone on across the past 15 years in Australia with a cheeky reference to the sadly now-defunct Centre for Youth literature, and the prominent quote of its website, InsideADog with her response:
“Without #LoveOzYA it’s too dark to read. Wait. No. That’s not it. But, also, it’s a shining light on the incredible talent in Australian YA and forged a fiercely supportive community.”
In this, we at #LoveOzYA are profoundly aware of the work done by so many before us and are so grateful for the fact that the Australian literary community (and young adult writers in particular) has this supportive framework from which #LoveOzYA was born and continues to serve.
Katya de Becerra, horror author extraordinaire of Oasis pointed out something important in her observation that ties into last month’s Ask Alice column.
“Without LoveOzYA there would be a significant gap in advocacy and representation for Australian YA literature, which would diminish young readers’ access to great Australian books.”
As we found, so many readers don’t actually know about the incredible Australian YA titles that are out there, or the fact that titles within the OzYA canon are so diverse and rich.
Amie Kaufman, co-author of The Aurora Cycle, and The Other Side of the Sky, said very simply:
“Without LoveOzYA, I’d never have met some of my favourite books.”
This sentiment was echoed by Jared Thomas, whose novel My Spare Heart will come out in June of this year, when he said:
“Without LoveOzYA I wouldn’t have such broad and up-to-date access to the best of what is happening in YA literature.”
#LoveOzYA . . . celebrates, promotes, and advocates for diversity within Australian young adult fiction.
The effect of raising the profile of Australian young adult fiction does more than simply get the name of individual authors out there. It also draws attention to the fact that Australian young adult fiction has such richness and diversity that it’s worth shouting ourselves hoarse about it.
When people ask about my work with #LoveOzYA, I often tell them that the Australian young adult literary scene is filled with so many talented writers from an incredible multitude of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. But then I usually go on to lament that so many people still don’t realise this.
Lili Wilkinson, author of so very many books, including Aurealis-winning The Erasure Initiative, similarly pointed out:
“Without LoveOzYA, Australian voices are reduced to blonde surfer dudes throwing shrimp on barbies. We all know we are so, so much more than that.”
Rebecca Lim, author of Tiger Daughter, winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, who brought the fiery truth when she said:
“Without LoveOzYA, there would be even less space for vital First Nations and Australian storytelling. Our identities and voices are unique – the days of simply accepting one dominant cultural hegemony are OVER.”
Holden Sheppard, author of multi award-winning Invisible Boys echoed this point with his incisive observation about the irreplaceable power of lived experience in art:
“In a domestic market dominated by US and international titles, the #LoveOzYA campaign has successfully amplified the voices of Australian authors, ensuring Aussie teens (and adults) get to read stories that reflect our country, our unique cultural quirks, the diversity of our lived experience.”
Ellie Marney, author of forthcoming 2022 release Arlington Hall, emphasised the importance of telling stories arising from the Australian experience with her comment:
“Without #LoveOzYA, we would not have a legacy of youth literature to call our own…without homegrown literature, we fail to give Australian young people a chance to read their own country’s stories.”
#LoveOzYA . . . supports a vibrant local arts community.
Although the Australian literary community has always been a relatively tightly knit one, many of the authors we contacted noted the specific sense of community fostered by the existence of #LoveOzYA.
Lisa Fuller, author of multi-award winning Ghost Bird stated:
“Without LoveOzYA there wouldn’t be such an amazing community, or the sense of support for each other.”
Alison Evans, author of Euphoria Kids, agreed:
“Without #LoveOzYA I would not have found my friends, endless inspiration and beautiful books!”
And Alice Pung, award-winning author of many books, including One Hundred Days, explicitly acknowledges this power to connect authors with each other, and their readers, with her contribution:
“Without #LoveOzYA, I would not have such a vibrant and supportive community for my work, especially my teenage readers!”
Moreover, Poppy Nwosu, author of 2022 CBCA Notable Book Roadtripping with Pearl Nash put her finger on something interesting when she said:
“Our country is vast and we are scattered, but I’ve always felt like #LoveOzYA brings us together and creates a space to share in excitement about Australian teen literature.”
Although Australia is quite small in the sense of population, we’re a geographically sprawling land, with a variety of climates, time zones, cultures, and lived experiences. It can be easy to become disconnected from what the writing communities in states on the other side of the country are doing.
The fact that #LoveOzYA is so decentralised and geographically unlinked means we try to look at what’s going on everywhere in Australia, and bring all the YA goodness together under a single banner.
Wai Chim, author of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, a Kirkus Award finalist, offered the perspective:
“LoveOzYA connects and supports a necessary and beloved community of writers, readers and passionate advocates. It promotes important conversations, creates vital awareness and nurtures our love and need for home grown stories that speak to all Australians.”
In many ways, I think this comes from the fact that #LoveOzYA, while an organisation, arises from a community movement and sentiment.
#LoveOzYA is a group, but it’s also a hashtag, a sentiment, a label, and a broader sense of pride.
#LoveOzYA . . . supports the careers of emerging and established Australian writers.
What really touched me was the number of people who credited #LoveOzYA for contributing to their career growth.
“Without #LoveOzYA, I honestly don’t think I’d be a published author right now!”, Tobias Madden, author of Anything But Fine, said, neatly echoed by Kay Kerr, author of Social Queue, with:
“Without #LoveOzYA I would not have found my agent, published two pieces of my heart, or connected with readers.”
Astrid Scholte, author of just-released League of Liars, pointed specifically to the power of visible Australian success stories in the young adult space, explaining:
“Without #LoveOzYA, I wouldn’t have seen being published as a possibility… it seemed like it only happens to people in the US, or was not a tangible goal.”
The role of #LoveOzYA in augmenting community connections was drawn to my attention by Sarah Epstein, author of recently released Sugarcoated, when she explained:
“Without LoveOzYA I would have struggled to find my place in the Australian YA scene as a debut author. Being a part of the #LoveOzYA community has introduced readers to my books through the hashtag on social media, through in-person events, and through the generosity of book reviewers, librarians and booksellers who make a point of recommending #LoveOzYA to readers.”
#LoveOzYA . . . supports an increase in the number of Australian young adult titles hitting the shelves (we’re pretty sure).
These comments are humbling and inspiring, for many reasons. And while I’m always wary of making big claims that can subsequently be disproved, after hearing all of this, I truly do think that the #LoveOzYA movement must have contributed to an increase in the number of Australian YA novels that have hit the shelves.
Exact numbers are difficult to come by, though. While we at #LoveOzYA try to be aware of every Australian YA book ever, it largely depends on our administrative capacity and frequent liaison with publishers.
Researcher Emily Booth notes that between 2012 and 2013, there was an increase from 98 YA novels published in Australia to 144. Although this is now a nearly decade-old comparison, a quick perusal of our notes at the time of writing shows at least 50 titles on the list for 2022, with more titles expected to be announced as the year progresses.
From this very basic analysis, I feel reasonably confident in saying that the state of Australian YA has seen an increase in terms of numbers published, and also the diversity of those texts, in the last decade. And I really like to think that #LoveOzYA, and the sentiment that we have supported, created, and celebrated, is part of the reason why that’s the case.
There’s still much championing to do. We’re as excited as ever to do it.
But after taking a moment to reflect upon what our fabulous OzYA authors have said, it’s safe to say that a community-led and community-oriented organisation can genuinely make a meaningful impact on the health of a small – but mighty! – pocket of the Australian arts.