Alice Pung is a writer best known for her memoir, Unpolished Gem and, more recently, the follow-up, Her Father's Daughter. In the first, she wrote about growing up in Braybrook, with her parents opening a store in Footscray. both in Melbourne's multicultural, working class Western suburbs. The second book, Her Father's Daughter, was mostly centred around her father's family - her mother's was in the first book - and their sufferings in Cambodia's killing fields. And powerful stuff it is, too! We have a student reading it right now.
Last year, thanks to Ambellin Kwaymullina, whom I met at a con, I learned that the Stella Prize for women's writing now has a schools program - and that they might have a little money put aside for disadvantaged schools like mone. She contacted them on my behalf and I emailed them and they said that yes, they did, and would pay for a visit. I had a choice of three writers, one of whom had won a CBCA Award and one who had been writing and visiting schools for many years - and Alice Pung.
We're a Western suburbs school. The English staff asked, please, could we have Alice Pung? So I agreed and arrangements began. It has taken since last year, but was worth the wait.
Yesterday, Alice came to visit. Her talk was designed to appeal to boys as well as girls. Because most of her output is her memoirs, by the time she got to Laurinda, her YA novel, the session was nearly over and the lunchtime bell was about to ring. She had some fascinating stories to tell, including a visit to a school in a boys' prison and the experiences of the comedian Anh Do, whose book our Year 9 students are reading. We did go a little beyond the bell, with questions, and the book giveaway was to a girl from one of our other campuses, as they had had to walk half an hour to reach us.
Afterwards, some students came to get posters autographed and then we went to lunch in the staff room.
Here's where Ms Pung showed her sheer generosity. Three girls from our Senior campus, who had been invited, arrived too late for the talk, due to a confusion of times. Alice gave them at least half an hour, perhaps more, and had her photo taken with them. And she is heavily pregnant and had another gig that evening and must have been tired.
We were lucky; ours may be one of her last school visits!
Anyway, thank you, Alice, Stella For Schools, Booked Out Speakers Agency and Ambelin!