I’m just back from the opening of the Earth’s first Martian Embassy – they’ve set up shop at 176 Redfern Street, Redfern, in Sydney. I was there for the official opening of the Sydney Story Factory (SSF) by Her Excellency, the Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir. And also for the launch by Markus Zusak of the SSF’s first book, I met a Martian & other stories.
I hadn’t thought to blog about it, but the room was so exciting, so welcoming – despite being like a Martian’s stomach, as someone said – and the speeches so inspiring, that I took some photographs (on my phone, so they’re not great) and scribbled some notes.
The Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit creative writing centre for young people and the launch was full of children, many of whom had contributed stories to I met a Martian. The SSF runs creative writing programs for upper primary and high school students to inspire them to write, to boost their confidence and allow them to find their own voices.
Its founders Catherine Keenan and Tim Dick were inspired to set up the SFF by 826 Valencia, a writing centre for young people founded by novelist Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Caligari in San Francisco in 2002. (Which also inspired novelist Nick Hornby to open The Ministry of Stories in London in 2010.)
First Redfern elder Millie Ingram welcomed us to Gadigal country. She said the art of reading and writing is one of the most important things we can give our children – and the Story Factory is such a wonderful way to encourage children to read and write and tell their stories. This shop is so stunning, a Martian Embassy.
‘I love creative people,’ Ingram said, ‘they make our world.’ She thanked Catherine and Tim – and gave a warm welcome from Gadigal people.
Then Professor Marie Bashir officially opened the Sydney Story Factory. She also thanked Tim and Catherine, saying they were visionaries leading the way. Looking around the room, she noted the large number of young people who were at the launch: this is why we’re all here, she said.
The Sydney Story Factory aims to light up a spark of creativity in every child, encouraging them – it’s so wonderful to give this to children. Professor Bashir thanked all those involved in setting up the Sydney Story Factory ‘from the bottom of my heart, in all my roles: mother, grandmother, aunt, person whose grandparents lived in Redfern’.
Markus Zusak began his launch of I met a Martian & other stories by telling two stories: one about a rubber ball that was really a meteor; the other about having run late for the SSF opening and having to explain to his young daughter why he had to rush off. ‘I have official business at the Martian Embassy,’ he told her. ‘Oh OK,’ she replied.
I met a Martian is a collection of short stories on Martian themes by children and adults, including Emily Maguire, Sophie Masson, William McInnes and Zusak himself.
Like Bashir, Zusak also commented on all the great young people assembled in the Martian Embassy. He then advised us, when reading I met a Martian, to turn straight to the back. Why? Because that’s where all the children’s stories are.
‘I’ve read the adults’ stories, and I can tell you, the children’s are better. I’m serious. They are going to teach us to write again.’
Catherine Keenan concluded the proceedings by reading some of the children’s autobiographical notes – including one which started ‘My name is Ada Fang. My family consists of a Martian-like sister, caring mother, nerdy dad and a crazy dog.’ – and thanking the SSF’s many sponsors, including its founding partner, UBS, and all the people (architects, designers) who helped build the extraordinary Martian Embassy.
Fittingly for an afternoon dedicated to stories, children and creativity, we ended with talk, tea and Martian cupcakes.