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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