Write of Passage
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George Bernard Shaw once quipped that ‘youth is wasted on the young’. Was he issuing sage wisdom about ageing … or was he just a huge fan of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants?
From The Goldfinch to Vernon God Little, Goodbye, Columbus to Jane Eyre, there’s a long history of coming-of-age novels targeted squarely at an adult audience. Young adult books, meanwhile, are increasingly attracting their own armies of impassioned older readers. What is it about bildungsroman narratives that continues to fascinate adults, and what distinguishes an ‘adult’ coming-of-age story from a work of young adult fiction? Do we find a sense of catharsis in revisiting the heady emotions of youth – albeit from the safe distance of (apparent) maturity?
Tegan Bennett Daylight writes for adults, young adults, and children, and her new short story collection, Six Bedrooms, offers glimpses of the angst, embarrassment, and beauty of adolescence. Liam Pieper’s charming works of memoir interrogate his own misspent youth. And in his celebrated debut Shadowboxing, Tony Birch captures the experience of growing up in inner-Melbourne in the 1960s.
With host Toni Jordan, they’ll explore what it means to read and write about young adulthood from a grown-up perspective – and share the coming-of-age stories that have meant the most to them.
Toni Jordan is the author of five novels. The international bestseller Addition was a Richard and Judy Bookclub pick and was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Fall Girl was published internationally and has been optioned for film, and Nine Days was awarded Best Fiction at the Indie Awards, was shortlisted for the ABIA Best General Fiction award, and was named in Kirkus Review’s top 10 Historical Novels of 2013. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts was shortlisted for the Voss Literary Prize 2017 and longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018. Toni’s latest book is the literary mystery The Fragments. She lives in Melbourne.
Tegan Bennett Daylight is a critic, teacher and fiction writer. She is the author of several books for children and teenagers, including the novels Bombora, What Falls Away and Safety. Her stories appear in a wide range of Australian journals, including Griffith Review, Meanjin and Best Australian Stories. She lives in the Blue Mountains with her husband and two children.
Liam Pieper is an author and journalist. His first book was a memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, shortlisted for the National Biography Award and the Ned Kelly Best True Crime award. His second was the Penguin Special Mistakes Were Made, a volume of humorous essays. He was co-recipient of the 2014 M Literary Award, winner of the 2015 Geoff Dean Short Story Prize and the inaugural creative resident of the UNESCO City of Literature of Prague. His first novel, The Toymaker, received the 2016 Christina Stead Fiction Award from the Fellowship of Australian Writers.
Tony Birch is a founding member of the Melbourne School of Discontent. He has published three novels; The White Girl, Ghost River and Blood. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and three short story collections, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to Australian literature. In 2021 he released two new books, a poetry book, Whisper Songs and a new short story collection, Dark As Last Night.
‘Maturity’, according to Kurt Vonnegut, ‘is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists’. So why are we all so eager to grow up?
The continued importance and popularity of coming-of age stories, hungrily devoured by readers of all ages, is perhaps testament to the journey being more important – and entertaining, wonderful, and terrifying – than the destination. Stories of young characters trying on new political opinions, philosophical ideas, and sexual identities (all while negotiating friendships, cramming for exams, or saving the world) continue to fascinate us. As the market for young adult writing continues to expand, coming-of-age stories have never been in greater demand.
What makes for a great rite of passage story, and how have classic coming-of-age novels influenced our ideas of what it really means to ‘grow up’? What does the flourishing of increasingly specific coming-of-age subgenres say about the state of contemporary young adulthood – and what exactly is the relationship between coming-of-age narratives and broader YA fiction?
In our Write of Passage series, we’ll look at this energetic field of writing from various angles – ‘adult’ coming-of-age stories, work aimed squarely at young adult readers, and writing that introduces young readers to adult themes.