TENANT spoke to Adele Walsh about how her resourceful way of populating a once book-less, high-school library led her into a world of literary review and ultimately to her dream job.
Don’t you just love a “first”? Adele’s interview is the first TENANT Alumni “pass it on” interview! As regular readers may know, in every TENANT interview the Melburnian being interviewed is asked to recommend another Melburnian to the readers of TENANT.
In May, Lilli H, Melbourne’s much loved fashion blogger recommended Adele Walsh to TENANT and we’re sure glad she did.
Passionate about education and literacy, Adele is a trained teacher whose commitment to her students and her work has unleashed a unique and rewarding career path. Bright, dedicated and forthright, Adele Walsh is someone you would want on your team.
Hi Adele, thanks for giving up some of your Saturday to talk to TENANT and inviting us to your Altona home. What postcode is this?
Altona’s postcode is 3018. I have lived here for about 6 months. I am not originally from Melbourne and moved here in 2011. I had stints in Camberwell and Carlton, which I love for different reasons; but I do love the sleepy seaside element of Altona after working in the CBD throughout the week. I am also inordinately fond of Brunswick.
Three suburbs in two years! On the move! On the upside, it would have been a fast way to get to know a new city, and to understand Melbourne cultural colloquialisms: “north of the river”, “over the bridge”, and “eastern suburbs”.
Yes. I do understand those expressions more now, but as a newcomer I also feel a certain freedom from the history and reputation of Melbourne’s suburbs. I feel I can see them in a different light to that of some old time residents. For example, Altona has the derogatory nickname “Smelltona”….
I think it comes from the smell of the local refineries, but I also think it probably has connections to a historical snobbery around the idea of working class Western suburbs. But actually the place reminds me a lot of Victor Harbor in Adelaide where I spent some of my childhood. I find the place very friendly, people say hello on the street. The beachfront is lovely, the fish and chips are incredible and I loved it straight off the bat.
You moved to Melbourne in 2011. What brought you to our door?
In late 2010 I was teaching in Japan when my dream job came up at the State Library of Victoria. Six weeks later I moved from Shizuoka, Japan to Melbourne, a place I had visited only twice before.
Those are two words that go well together: dream and job. Congratulations for both recognising it as such when you saw it, and for being successful in your application.
You now work in programming for the State Library of Victoria’s Centre for Youth Literature – and you are a trained teacher, can you tell us about the road and the bridge that brought you from one profession to the other?
I was one of those teenagers who had no clue what I wanted to be – which is highly problematic when trying to choose university degrees – but I went with teaching as I enjoyed working with young people.
Six years into my teaching career I rediscovered my love of youth literature. My school at the time didn’t have a library – difficult when you’re teaching reluctant teen readers – so I started a youth literature review blog, Persnickety Snark, to grow resources for my students. Basically I asked publishing houses for copies of books in return for my review.
Persnickety Snarky took off rather quickly and I developed a readership both here and internationally, and as result I was sent many books. In reading so much quality literature for teens I knew that I wanted to pursue a career where great books and amazing authors would be my nine to five.
Persnickety Snark has a huge following – why do you think that is? And what is the inspiration behind the name?
Honestly, I think it is a bit of a mix of style and luck. I was once coined a “bad girl” of blogging and I have a reputation for being “honest”. I think my style was refreshing at the time, to the world I was talking to. I also think I was lucky enough to review and interview some interesting authors, just at their time to shine – before they won an award, etc., which led a lot of people to my site.
Ha, the name! I chose that name because I can be a bit snarky and also because I can be a bit of snob when it comes to what I like. And finally, I just liked the sound of the words together – they make a sound like Wolverine’s claws gnashing.
And a warm welcome to our first fictional character reference! I was wondering when it would arrive.
As a young adult (YA) reviewer and now as youth literature programmer I imagine your days are often filled with heroes and villains and tales of coming of age. What are some of your favourite YA book characters and authors and why?
I have read both of those books, and also admire those characters. So, you like strong and conscious female characters?
Yes. I guess so – as a female growing up I enjoyed reading about strong and kind female characters. These days a have a soft spot for Australian work and still remember the feeling I got when I first identified with a fictional character. I was in Year 7 or 8 at high school and I read Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi. I wasn’t living in Sydney, I’m not Italian, nor Catholic, but the novel’s contemporary Australian voice really spoke to me.
If I were pushed to pick my current YA favourites, it would be On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak, which has a male protagonist. I’m also a huge fan of John Marsden and the work he has produced.
Yes he is inspirational isn’t he, both for his writing and his teaching work. What about something like the hugely popular YA fictional series Twilight? Are you a fan?
Not particularly, I don’t think it is particularly well written but I do have an appreciation for the fact that it got millions of reluctant teen readers to open a book. Anything that gets people reading in my mind is a great thing. The Hunger Games, which appeals to much the same readership, but both males and females, I would be happy to recommend.
You are a qualified teacher; you have been a principal of a school under the age of 30; you have penned a successful blog; you sit on the Board of Express Media and work for an iconic literary institution in a UNESCO City of Literature. You are no slouch Adele Walsh! Out of all you have achieved to date – what are you most proud of professionally?
Hearing that I helped students develop a love of reading is far and away the most rewarding aspect of my career so far. Putting the right book in the right hands is often a puzzle, but amazing when you get it right.
You have covered a lot of ground professionally. Do you have a dream project waiting in the wings?
Ever since reading Anne of Green Gables I’ve always wanted to journey to the Prince Edward Islands in Canada. I know Anne isn’t there, but I want to see it all the same.
You have said you are inspired by Australian writers. Is there a word or expression that strikes you as particularly Melbourne?
Well, the number of conversations that are built on or around coffee strikes me as very Melbourne. Being a non-drinker makes this somewhat baffling.
Yes, Melbourne and its coffee – this topic comes up regularly in TENANT conversations! So if not for the coffee – what are you are most proud of in Melbourne?
I am inordinately proud of working at the State Library of Victoria. My colleagues are programming amazing events right here in Melbourne, like the Outside-In free cinema series, the recent Love and Devotion exhibition looking at Persian manuscripts, and Storytimes for kids. It’s building a community right in the centre of the city.
Amen, to that. The cultural offering to be found in postcode 3000 has gained so much strength in the past 15 years. What other changes would you like to see in Melbourne?
The Laverton train line (Altona loop) is not much fun at the moment. It would be great to see that situation rectified. There is even a Facebook page devoted to the cause!
As you know, you were TENANT’s first “pass it on” interview; the wise and kind Lilli H recommended you. Whom would you like to introduce to TENANT?
Cath Crowley. She is an incredibly talented author and all around lovely person. Cath was awarded the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Older Readers in 2011 for Graffiti Moon – a book that takes place over one night in Melbourne.
Thank you for that recommendation, I look forward to learning more about Cath.
Lastly, how would you like to be remembered?
And what a simple and honest answer for a woman who works with words! Adele, I am sure that you will be remembered very warmly by all of the students and the young adults whose worlds you have opened through placing the right book in their hands.
Thank you for your time and for the reading recommendations. I for one am going to read some Melina Marchetta and Marcus Zusak before the year is through.