Dystopian Fiction at Santa Sabina College 2017

In a spe­cial two-part work­shop at San­ta Sabi­na in mid-2017, I had the hon­our of work­ing with an incred­i­ble cohort of Year 10 Eng­lish stu­dents. To begin, I deliv­ered a one hour lec­ture that offered a brief overview of the his­to­ry and cul­ture of the DPRK and looked at ways that authors have sought to explore and illu­mi­nate total­i­tar­i­an soci­eties through lit­er­a­ture. 

A few weeks lat­er, I returned to work with a small­er group of Year 10 stu­dents. These young writ­ers had vol­un­teered to take part in an inten­sive work­shop, and shared the first para­graphs of their own dystopi­an cre­ations. The inno­va­tion, wit and tal­ent on dis­play were exem­plary, and I was tempt­ed to steal some of the stu­dents’ ideas for my next book! Bet­ter still, I hope these fine young writ­ers go on to write nov­els of their own. 

San­ta Sabi­na Col­lege in Strath­field is blessed with an incred­i­ble Eng­lish Depart­ment, and a won­der­ful Head of Depart­ment in Rachel Duke. That San­ta Sabi­na even has an Eng­lish teacher as Prin­ci­pal, Dr Maree Her­rett, tells you that here is a school that loves and val­ues lit­er­a­ture!

For more on this fan­tas­tic event, check out this love­ly piece of stu­dent jour­nal­ism from Patri­cia Schwarzkopf and Sab­ri­na Orlovic:

“Last week, Year 10 Eng­lish was priv­i­leged enough to talk to Young Adult fic­tion author, Chris Richard­son. Not only is Richard­son the author of the Empire of the Waves mar­itime fan­ta­sy series (pub­lished by Pen­guin), he is also an expert on North Korea, and we had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to lis­ten to him speak about the total­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment of that coun­try as part of our ongo­ing study of dystopi­an nov­els … Up until Richardson’s vis­it, only a tiny minor­i­ty of us knew much about the his­to­ry of North Korea, how its gov­ern­ment came to be, and the extent of their government’s con­trol over the nation. North Korea is a soci­ety with 80,000 to 150,000 polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. Not only are you pun­ished for per­ceived dis­loy­al­ty to the regime, but your fam­i­ly is also threat­ened with pun­ish­ment; some­what like the fic­tion­al dystopi­an soci­eties we have read about. Sim­i­lar to one of the dystopi­an texts many of us have been study­ing, Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451, this total­i­tar­i­an Gov­ern­ment has abol­ished ele­ments of soci­ety such as west­ern tele­vi­sion and books, and the free­dom of move­ment and love in order to pre­vent any of its cit­i­zens hav­ing dif­fer­ing ideas to the rest of soci­ety, and pos­ing a pos­si­ble threat to the gov­ern­ment; the Kim dynasty … Addi­tion­al­ly, Richard­son iden­ti­fied aspects of North Kore­an life which are sim­i­lar to those illus­trat­ed in oth­er dystopi­an texts. For exam­ple, the word “Inmin­ban” is the North Kore­an neigh­bour­hood-watch sys­tem; sim­i­lar to that of the mechan­i­cal hounds found in Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451. Vio­lence is very much nor­malised and rit­u­alised in North Korea; sim­i­lar to that of the two-minute hate rit­u­al in George Orwell’s 1984. Peo­ple are expect­ed to mar­ry those from sim­i­lar, gov­ern­ment approved castes, sim­i­lar to the con­trol of love and mar­riage we saw in Matched. From his lec­ture, not only were we able to see con­cepts of dystopi­an fic­tion being imple­ment­ed into a real mod­ern-day soci­ety, but also their effec­tive­ness in enforc­ing con­for­mi­ty and the impacts of their manip­u­la­tion of the cit­i­zens. Fur­ther­more we also learnt that Richard­son, for his PhD, chose to write about child­hood lit­er­a­ture in North Korea, and we were sur­prised to dis­cov­er that child­hood lit­er­a­ture and comics were sources of gov­ern­ment pro­pa­gan­da that demonised their ene­mies (such as USA and the Japan­ese Army). Not only were the sto­ry­lines of children’s books altered in this man­ner, but even maths prob­lems writ­ten in children’s Math­e­mat­ics text­books were altered to priv­i­lege North Korea and insult their ene­mies. Over­all, the expe­ri­ence was eye-open­ing and enriched our knowl­edge of the effects of a dystopi­an soci­ety and total­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment in our mod­ern world. Our new knowl­edge and under­stand­ing will help us as we research our cho­sen dystopi­an texts for our Tex­tu­al Inter­est Projects.”

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