Interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah for Reading Matters 2017
Randa Abdel-Fattah is an award-winning author of 11 books, as well as an academic, former lawyer and human rights advocate. Randa’s PhD in Sociology explored everyday multiculturalism, Islamophobia and racism in Australia. Her latest YA novel, When Michael Met Mina, won the 2017 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Prize for Writing for Young Adults and is longlisted for the 2017 Gold Inky Award. Randa is giving the closing address at the Reading Matters conference in June. Click here to book your tickets now!
Inky: What do you love most about writing for young adults?
I think of myself as somebody who writes about young adults, not necessarily for them. I don’t think young adults need a specific genre of fiction limited by age, nor do I think adults should (or indeed do) shy away from reading books about adolescent life. What I love most is the world of adolescence – the intensity, the passion, the urgency, the pathos.
Inky: What are you currently reading, loving and recommending?
I’m currently reading Spark by Rachael Craw which is brilliant and thrilling! And I’m reading The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead which has me holding my breath at almost every page.
Inky: Which one of your characters would you most like to have a coffee with and why?
Samy in Where the Streets Had a Name. I’d want to reassure him not to give up hope.
Inky: What are you working on right now and when can we expect it out in the world?
I’m working on the film adaptation of Does My Head Look Big In This? We’re hoping it will go into production in the second half of 2018!
Inky: Why was it important for you to include Michael’s point of view in When Michael Met Mina?
I was keen to explore racism from various perspectives and to explore how it mutates, transforms and adapts depending on the context. We see Michael’s privilege and inherited and unquestioned world views challenged, and it was important for me to show that journey and its impact on Michael, his family and the people hurt by his family and their network.
Inky: How did you manage to balance the serious issues examined in When Michael Met Mina but also have it be read as an enjoyable YA contemporary novel?
That’s just the irony of life though, isn’t it? Humour and joy can sit alongside tragedy and pain.
Inky: Why is it vital for teens to read and listen to the lived experiences of those who are oppressed and belong to marginalised communities?
I think politicians have led us to believe that refugees and asylum seekers are ‘complicated’ ‘issues’. But it’s quite simple as far as I can see it. Australia is a privileged country that is involved in wars that creates refugees. Some of those refugees risk their lives to escape persecution, violence and even death. The ones who try to reach us for protection we lock up. We lock them up on islands and countries we’ve financially cajoled into doing our dirty work. We lock people up and when they self-harm, self-immolate, are killed in our care, we deny responsibility. For me, Mina’s story is about simplifying the issue to some basic truths which I think we should all be asking of each other, including teens: Who do we count as human? What is privilege? Justice? Who do we show empathy for and who do we shun? What is it about our fears, insecurities, identity that needs an enemy, an ‘other’? I hope my readers are able to confront these questions head-on. Maybe listening to people affected by racism and cruel policies will give readers more insight into these questions.
Inky: When Michael Met Mina will be released in the US as The Lines We Crossed. How does it feel to have more teens reading this incredibly timely story?
It’s been amazing and the reception in the US so far has been incredible. I’ve been thrilled with the reviews and feedback so far.
Inky: What can you tell us about the film adaptation of Does My Head Look Big in This?
Writing the screenplay with David Curzon and Keith Thompson has been such a joy. I’ve loved the process of adapting the book to film. It’s involved an update of the storyline and some changes to the plot and characters to make it more relevant to today’s context. Eleven years on and the book is more topical today than when it was first published. There’s something bittersweet about that fact.
Inky: Thanks for chatting with us Randa! We can’t wait to see you in June!