Diversity in YA panel with Fiona Wood, Michael Pryor and Meg Mundell

Diversity in YA

For too long, straight white non-disabled privileged characters have dominated literature. Fiona Wood, Michael Pryor and Meg Mundell have each written diverse characters: ethnic diversity, characters with disabilities and homeless teenagers. Nalini Haynes asks them about diversity in YA, their inspirations and why diversity is important.

Fiona Wood

Fiona Wood: a guest speaker on the diversity in YA panelFiona Wood’s first young adult novel, Six Impossible Things, was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year, Older Readers. Her second, Wildlife, won the CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers and was shortlisted for a number of other awards. Her third book, Cloudwish, will be launched next week and I predict awards. Her books are published internationally. Before writing YA fiction, Fiona wrote television scripts. She lives in Melbourne with her family.

Fiona has a website and can be found on Twitter. Fiona’s latest book is Cloudwish.

Fiona recommends:
  • Nona & Me by Clare Atkins, (protagonist’s childhood best friend is indigenous, and indigenous community setting and issues),
  • Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom, US, (protagonist is blind) (I read both these titles to blurb them),
  • The First Third by Will Kostakis, (protagonist’s friend is gay and has cerebral palsy)
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan US (main characters are gay)

Michael Pryor

Michael Pryor: a guest speaker on the diversity in YA panelMichael Pryor writes fantasy and science fiction for teenagers. He has published more than thirty novels and 50 something short stories. He has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Award six times and seven of his books have been CBCA Notable books. His website is www.michaelpryor.com.au and you can find him on Twitter and Facebook. Michael’s latest book is Leo da Vinci vs the Ice-cream Domination League from Random House Australia. Leo da V – inventor, dreamer, artist, 10 year old fighter against supervillains.

Michael recommends:
  • Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi (ethnic diversity)
  • Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff (Japanese steampunk)
  • Ink, Inc by Jack Heath

Meg Mundell

Meg Mundell: diversity panelMeg Mundell wrote the novel Black Glass (2011, shortlisted for two Aurealis Awards, the Barbara Jefferis Award and the Norma K Hemming Award) and the short story collection Things I Did for Money (2013, both Scribe). She has published short fiction, essays and journalism in Best Australian Stories, New Australian Stories, Meanjin, Eureka Street, Cordite, Sleepers Almanac, Australian Book Review, The Age, The Monthly, Sydney Morning Herald and other places. She’s now writing her second novel and a PhD exploring how authors use experiential techniques to evoke place.

This article just went live on 1 August, and in keeping with the YA theme, has a strong link to childhood: Meg’s most recent piece is an essay for poetry journal Cordite, about hunting down her childhood hero, the legendary Kiwi poet Sam Hunt.

Meg has a website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Meg recommends:

A Bridge to the Stars, by Swedish thriller writer Henning Mankell, a coming-of-age story about a lonely, motherless boy with an overactive imagination.

I’m currently enjoying Kelly Link’s surreal and darkly humorous Get in Trouble, ahead of interviewing her for Melbourne Writers Festival — her stories are full of outsiders, freaks and weird happenings.

And I just finished The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (won the Pulitzer in 2013), a novel set in North Korea. It reads like fantasy but offers a chilling and fascinating glimpse into a terrifying real-life regime and the lives of the people who exist beneath its boot-heel.

Planned questions

  1. In my haste to complete an assignment — this podcast doubles as an assignment — I sought authors who are all in the same time zone and have written YA with diverse characters. I believe you’re all straight white non-disabled people from middle-class backgrounds; why write diverse characters?
  2. What things do you look for when researching diversity?
  3. Do you find it enriches character and world building?
  4. What challenges do you face in writing characters and diversity?
  5. Does writing diversity in YA create challenges for selling your work?
  6. Do you find your readers are more responsive to particular topics of diversity?
  7. Do you ever struggle with appropriation issues or accusations of misappropriation?
  8. Why do you think today’s tech-savvy young adults are drawn to steampunk?
  9. Which authors and novels have influenced or inspired you?
  10. Tell us about your latest stories.
  11. What’s coming next for you?

Some other articles about diversity