a) Do your homework on the panellists. Learn that Adolfo Aranjuez and Jessica Yu are part of the festival’s 30 Under 30, a program for hip, talented writers aged 30 and under. Realise that on a good day you are only half of one of those things, and it’s not under 30. Briefly mourn this fact.
b) Read about panel host Maxine Beneba Clarke. Become fascinated by her use of voice in ForeignSoil and the different characters’ words. Be unsurprised that the collection and its author have won a laundry list of awards.
c) Arrive at ACMI Cinema 1 early to find a queue stretching down the stairs. Make a note to redefine your concept of ‘early’. Chat to some women from Albury who are waiting behind you. Agree that you’re all looking forward to this session, and that Melbourne is cold. Take your seat in the crowded cinema, notebook balanced precariously on your knee. Keep dropping your notebook, to the annoyance of people sitting near you.
Part II: Listen
a) Listen to the Acknowledgement of Country and related haiku the panellists have been asked to write. When Clarke speaks of “crafting words on your land” become distracted thinking about the melding of voice, race and place in the haiku and miss Clarke’s first question to the panel. Catch up when Yu says “writing is about unveiling mysteries” and Aranjuez adds “writing has always been an escape.”
b) Be impressed by Clarke’s thoughtful guiding of the panel. Laugh when Clarke classifies herself as “way overprepared” and be thankful when she asks insightful questions as a result. In response to one of these questions, hear Aranjuez say that his writing is about visibility and empowerment, partly in response to a lack of Asian characters in Australian fiction.
c) Find yourself half-smiling while listening to a reading by Yu from the young adult novel she is working on, whose main character is a teenage boy from an Asian background. Chuckle with the rest of the audience when the protagonist takes his white love interest to his family home, whose lounge and floors are covered in thick plastic.
d) Lean forward as Clarke kicks off a discussion about the use of language by writers of colour, asserting that these writers “approach language and writing in a different way.” Remain interested while Yu concedes writers of colour may be more open to experimenting with form, which could be part of the genesis for Betanarratives, a digital storytelling platform created by Yu (and best viewed on a computer).
e) Take furious notes as Aranjuez talks about being approached as the spokesperson for an entire culture by writers wanting to represent an Asian character. Get a hand cramp while Aranjuez elaborates on only speaking to his own experiences, and not feeling comfortable representing a group of people with different interests and backgrounds. Drop your notebook again.
Part III: Reflect
a) Walk out of ACMI feeling like you’ve engaged your brain, which is somewhat unusual for a Friday.
b) Read through your notes before writing your review. Realise you have not come close to capturing the articulate way in which Clarke, Aranjuez and Yu expressed themselves.