I was fortunate to be able to listen to Alice Pung again today. She was the visiting author for our year 11 students and spoke on the theme of Identity and Conflict: Challenges of life and writing about being Asian in Australia.
Alice was an excellent speaker. She captured the attention of our boys immediately by telling them some stories about her experiences speaking to some other groups. It was from the perspective of the first Asian person to have talked to these groups. She spoke very understandingly of their behaviours. As she spoke her, wit and humour took command of her audience. Alice is softly spoken and kind to her audiences. She may challenge their ideas and thoughts about identity and what it is to be “Australian” but her manner is such that they listen and take on board her comments.
Alice has written two books so far and, in between writing them, she edited an anthology, containing the stories of other Australians with an Asian background, entitled Growing Up Asian in Australia. It is from this book that she took her first story.
All our year 11 English and English as an Additional Language (formerly ESL) students are studying Growing Up Asian in Australia in English this year. It is not common for these two groups to study the same book and I think that this one offers a lot of options for the two groups to share experiences.
Unfortunately I did not get to hear the last 20 minutes of Alice’s talk. I had a previous engagement with a class of year 7 students who were going to tell me about their reading so far this year but I am sure the boys gave Alice a hearty thanks for her insights.
This is the third time I have heard Alice talk about her writing and identity.
The first time was in 2006 at the Penguin Publishers launch of her first book, Unpolished Gem. This is a novel about growing up in a first generation Asian Australian (Chinese-Cambodian) family in Braybrook, a western suburb in Melbourne. It is a very affectionate look back at her childhood and her immigrant family life. It was not all light and she, and her family, had a fair share of difficulties. She is able to rise above these to produce a story that showed a keen sense of humour, a sharp wit and a good understanding of satire as she records her family’s integration into Australian life. This is a novel that some of our International students have studied at my school in the years since it was written. Many of our students are Chinese and they can identify with some of the things she writes about. There are teacher notes written by Pam Macintyre to assist with studying the book.
The second time I had the opportunity to hear Alice was in 2011 at a School Library Association of Victoria conference. She had just written her second book, Her Father’s Daughter. There are some more links here. This is again biographical, but it takes the reader beyond the comfortable life she has experienced in Australia with her parents to the life her father lead to survive the killing fields of Cambodia. There is a good video interview conducted in 2011 giving the background to writing this book on BlipTv .
You can listen to a 2011 interview with Alice in an ABC Radio National Book Show program orread a 2011 interview with Alice on the Black Inc. blog discussing Her Father’s Daughter. There is also an Age article, Memories of relative unease Aug 20th 2011.
Writers Talk video: