ASU’s NOD to Steampunk

By

Margaret Coulombe

Arizona State University is a training ground for many new forms of expression in fiction, including in the popular Young Adult (YA) genre.

James Blasingame is a professor in ASU’s Department of English and a mentor to budding authors of YA fiction nationally. He is also executive director of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

In his classrooms, Blasingame’s students read 21 books from his cherry-picked shelves of thousands to hone their skills. Two in particular headline his reading list: “If I Ever Get Out of Here” by Eric Gansworth and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by the late Ned Vezzini (both of whom also joined his classes via Skype).

Blasingame challenges students to consider their own role, culture and experience in their work and guides technique with his own numerous publications; such as, “Books That Don’t Bore ‘Em: Young Adult Literature for Today’s Generation.”

He also invites up-and-coming and breakthrough YA authors to his classrooms, including, Stephenie Meyer, A. S. King, P. J Haarsma, Frank Beddor, Tom Leveen, Janette Rallison, Aprilynne Pike, Amy Felner Dominy, Amy Nichols, Lisa McMann, Shonna Slayton, and ASU alum and Writer-in-Residence Bill Konigsberg, to help ASU students learn how to add their new voices to science fiction, steampunk, paranormal or other yet-to-be genre fictions.

His own love affair with reading began with “Have Space Suit – Will Travel” by Robert A. Heinlein, while a young man in Iowa.

“The beauty of reading, particularly YA and genre fiction, is that is offers a new world to operate in," he said. "It takes young people out of the ‘real world,’ allows them to role play and better understand themselves, as well as their place in the world.”

That, Blasingame said, can have a major impact.

“Books can save lives,” he said. “You just don’t know what will resonate with young people. Your story matters.”

Young and old can meet Blasingame and visiting YA writer Suzanne Lazear­­­, author of the steampunk-fairytale inspired “Aether Chronicles,” at ASU’s Night of the Open Door in Tempe. The duo will host games, a steampunk cosplay-costume competition , and offer a book signing (for all ages) on Feb. 27 from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Steampunk can incorporate elements of science fiction or fantasy. Set in an alternative reality mashup of modern technology powered by 19th-century cast iron or steam-powered machinery, its early influences include Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Modern steampunk characters can dress in a blend of futuristic and Victorian era costume. Picture a female air pirate in leather corset and long silk skirt storming the skies in a dirigible airship.

While you might not see yourself in steampunk, the genre excites readers with its alternative exploration of science, literature, art, engineering and romance.

“There is a book within you to write or out there with you in it,” Blasingame said. “Imagine if you were asked to read literature in school but there was never anyone like you in it, nothing that reflects you? If kids find someone like them in a book, they will read.”

The Night of the Open Door mini-con , Blasingame says, is a pilot for something larger.

“Cosplay is trending and ASU is a great testing ground for new forms of literature and expression.”

This event is also another way to share with the public that English language and literature are vital, something more than diagramming sentences. English is flexible, Blasingame says, capable of doing new things, from the language of air traffic control to wherever your imagination takes you.

“It’s kind of like the Borg" — recurring antagonists in the Star Trek series — "it absorbs all around it and grows.”

Likewise, Night of the Open Door combines humanities, technology, math, engineering and art – much like steampunk does, and offers fertile ground for creativity, discovery and family fun. Over the last few years, Blasingame has hosted sessions from Cowboy Poetry to a Zombie Romp with notable YA authors.

On Feb. 27, ASU visitors can meet Blasingame, Lazear and other authors and students, be part of a 12-Bar Blues Lyrics Workshop or stop by the Noble Library to create a book or creative refrigerator poetry at #CreativeWrite . Celebrate Dr. Suess’ birthday or tackle giant crossword puzzles with Regents’ Professor and Poet Laureate of Arizona Alberto Rios, learn Haiku , create stories and rockets and more than 300 other activities, performances, demos and events. Come ignite your creative side !