Sunday, August 1, 2010

M.T. Anderson's Workshop: Literary Experiment in Books For Children

I'm so excited about this session on craft - M.T. Anderson is an incredible author whose work is amazing, remarkably different (in the best possible ways), and successful - both commerically and critically. (Oh yeah, he won that National Book Award!)

The room is PACKED (over 200 excited writers, people sitting on the floor, standing along the walls, in every seat, computers poised and pens in hand...)

M.T. argues that experimental writing for kids is actually easier for an audience of children than it is for adults, if done with a tone of having fun.

Here are some of the points he's making:

"experimental" isn't really experimental - they are techniques long in use

In children's lit, experimental techniques are taken for granted as some of the fun ways we tell stories to kids.

The text teaches readers how to read them as they read.

He reads us a poem (Poem 25) by Kurt Schwitters that does this - it teaches us how to read it as it's read. Wow. It's all numbers. And then he analyses the poem, numbers of form without content. He called it "gorgeously kaleidoscopic," then related it to how we writers use words in a narrative. Really fascinating!

M.T. explains that his point here is to sensitize us to the underlying form and patterns of words that we use to build our narratives.

His next example is Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," which he analyzes in it's experimental form. Did you notice the rhythm of definition through repetition and difference?

When he gets to Shaun Tan's "The Arrival," a stunning and wordless graphic novel, M.T. is ebuliant at how even the title page conveys to us that this is an alien world at once familiar and strange. Which is exactly the point M.T. made in his keynote about how all art is about seing the world anew so we can see it fresh!

It's a great session, and everyone's riveted!


  1. Has anyone ever noticed that MT looks like a cross between Kevin Kline and Michael Caine?

  2. My pen was running mighty fast. I could not believe that someone was so eloquently analysing the significance a series of numbers right before my eyes. You're right, absolutely fascinating.