An homage to Mike and Lili

by | Dec 11, 2010

The Centre for Youth Literature has got more teenagers into reading, connected more young adults with more books and authors, provided more thought-provoking professional development for teachers, librarians and writers, than any other program in the country.  It’s been constantly innovative and constantly evolving.  (It’s also delivered the most fun touring program a writer could ever hope to be a part of, but that’s another story).  It’s been able to achieve all of this because of the enthusiasm, intelligence, passion, love and sheer hard work of the people that have created and sustained it – the redoubtable Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, Mike Shuttleworth, Lili Wilkinson, and now Paula Kelly and Susan McLaine.

Artswork might be rewarding, but it’s hard yakka.  It’s hard to see chunks of money always going to sports programs, when a sliver of the same would run a reading/writing program for years.  It’s hard having to fight for and justify each crumb of funding you get, having to spend as much time applying for and acquitting grants as doing the work you’re funded for.  It’s hard to raise the profile of an activity so pivotally important to our sense of culture, place and self as writing in the face of newspaper cutbacks and general editorial disinterest.  And then there are the actual writers.  Writers are a notoriously whinging, tempestuous and temperamental lot: it can be hard listening to folk complaining about who got what and how someone else deserved it more, being depressed about their lack of sales or prizes, and pining for writerly utopia, comprised of time, money, a garret and/or red wine (okay, so maybe that was just me.  But you get my point).

So people who can always find the joy in what they’re doing – who manage to sustain their love for their work  – are rare and should be prized.  And people who wave the flag for the importance of YA and all who sail in her are equally rare, and are our true national treasures.

Hence my unutterable sadness that CYL is losing Mike and Lili.

Aside from her organisational feats, Lili has created and maintained insideadog, which is the best website for teenagers who love books anywhere, ever, IMHO, and is as funky and interesting as Lili herself.  Through her own blog and her thoughtful engagement with others’, she makes sure we keep interrogating the way we think about YA writing, writers and everything else in between.  She’s leaving to be that most elusive and lucky of creatures, a Full Time Writer.  I eagerly await the brain babies she creates.

And then there’s Mike, the man who had to leave Western Australia because he hadn’t read (or was that didn’t like?  I forget) Cloudstreet.  Mike has been a champion of my work, and for this I have always been grateful.  He has also been a sanity saver more than once, and one of the delights of my Melbourne sojourns is coffee at Mr Tulk’s with Mike.  It’s a shame CYL can’t bottle his fine and nuanced knowledge of contemporary YA literature before he goes.

I know people have to move on, and, after eight years, Mike and Lili have done more than their fair share for YA literature in Australia.  They have encouraged us writers to push the boundaries, write to our limits – to take pride in what we do, and make sure that we get to meet our audiences once in a while.  I know that CYL is still in good hands, and it will still run great programs.

But still.  I’m sad.

And on behalf of those of us who’ve had the privilege to work with you, I want to say thanks.  As if it is enough.

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