NCRCL Conference Report: Part II

This is the second and final installment of our report from the NCRCL Conference. If you missed the first post, you can find it here.

Current MA student Jess Bedi summarised Alison Waller’s plenary lecture:

‘Inside the Young Adult Brain’

Alison Waller kicked off proceedings in style with a challenging and inspiring talk that investigated the manner in which scientific developments have given us new insights into the young adult brain and how this is reflected in young adult literature. These developments, alongside technological advances such as the Internet, mean that young adults have new ways of perceiving, and in turn this impacts their interior world. She concentrated on three exciting texts for teenagers that explore these ideas, Peter Dickinson’s Eva (1988), M T Anderson’s Feed (2002), and Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox (2008). Dickinson’s and Anderson’s novels both explore the relationship between body /character/interior world through new developments in medical science. Feed is a satire on the Internet and consumerism, and its effects on the youthful brain. These books are all linked in the way that they address our fears about new developments and also the impacts they may have on our inner selves. I particularly enjoyed the way she linked these developments in teenage fiction with the Modernist literary movement in general, from Woolf’s experiments in stream of consciousness to McEwan’s Saturday.

Alison Waller’s enthusiasm and knowledge meant that she communicated complex insights in an accessible and entertaining manner. This was a lecture crammed with fresh ideas, and I am now very much looking forward to expanding my own horizons, and reading these novels over the summer.

And here are a additional thoughts on the conference as a whole, and this session, from Distance Learning student Tanja Maeve Maria Jennings McGuffin:

Saturday the 12th of May was my initiation to the University of Roehampton as a distance learning student. It was also my first opportunity to attend a NCRCL conference. I travelled from Belfast and discovered an attractive campus set on beautiful lawns complete with a fountain, mallard ducks, Canada geese and grey squirrels. When I arrived at the building where the conference was being held, friendly staff greeted me. The day was interesting and insightful.

After a brief introduction, it started with a fascinating talk by Dr Alison Waller on the science of the teenage brain. Prefacing her discussion with the theory of David Lodge that literature is a record of human consciousness, she explored the exciting concept of neuro surgery through the mirror of young adult fiction. By concentrating on three futuristic and dystopian texts – Peter Dickinson’s Eva, M.T Anderson’s Feed and Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, she looked at the nature of dualism, the consequences of neural experimentation and the significance of emotional memory…

When the talk was over my brain was tingling. I started thinking about the teen fiction we had in our library that dealt with this topic and wanted to read more so I could recommend it to others. This led to imagining the possibilities of science fiction becoming fact and the consequences of genetic and neural manipulation. Feeling stimulated and inspired I headed out for a break in the sun before being propelled along the ‘Moebius Strip.’

Val Edgar wrote the following summary of Philip Gross’ talk at the end of the day:

The final session of a full and fascinating day was the presentation by Philip Gross entitled “Outside In”. Gross gave an interesting account of his creative work with young people, interspersed with his entertaining and thoughtful poetry. He began with his poem, “The Moebius Strip”, following David Rudd’s theme. Gross then explored the concept of borders and margins in children’s lives, explaining that these appear everywhere, yet each border gives the possibility of invasion or risk i.e. story. Borders are creative spaces and being creative does not mean starting from scratch but stepping over that border to recompose the world around you in a different order which changes options unexpectedly. He explained that in his work he finds increasingly that children have difficulty in finding their own “inner space” yet freely outsource their inner lives through YouTube and Facebook. He highlighted, to sighs of obvious fondness in the room, the intense inner lives of the Moomins, which as readers we recognise but do not have access to. Through examples of his activities in school Gross explained that encouraging children to become more deeply interior while being creative results in a richer sharing experience.

Rounding off the day Lisa Sainsbury, the incoming director of NCRCL, paid a most fond and admiring tribute to Gillian Lathey who will be retiring as the current director this August.

We remembered Maurice Sendak who died on 8.5.12, aged 83.

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About Alison Waller

I am a Senior Lecturer at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL) at Roehampton University in London. My main research areas are young adult fiction and the practice and philosophy of reading. My monograph Constructions of Adolescence in Fantastic Realism was published by Routledge in 2009 and I have also edited a collection of essays for the Palgrave Macmillan New Casebook Series on Melvin Burgess (2013). I am currently working on a project called Rereading Childhood Books: a Poetics, which asks how adults reread and negotiate relationships with books from their pasts.

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