WITH a lifetime as a self-acknowledged “career dilettante” behind her, Canberra writer Maura Pierlot is on a roll.
Her eight-part web series “Fragments”, which won Best TV/Web Series and Best Screenplay at the last Canberra Short Film Festival, was launched at the NFSA and is now on YouTube, while this month her new picture book for young people, “What Will You Make Today?” is being launched at Dairy Road.
It’s been a long journey, but you can take her “dilettante” confession with a grain of salt, as the American-born Pierlot is a high achiever, with a swag of qualifications behind her, including a BA in philosophy from Duke University, a masters and a PhD in philosophy from Georgetown University for which she spent time on a Fulbright Scholarship at Monash University, where she met her Aussie husband, Kieran.
She’s tried a lot of things in life, but found over the past decade that writing is what suits her best.
As an expatriate often having to contend with the phrase, “in Australia we do things this way”, she says everyone knows she’s not Australian, because of her accent, reinforcing the idea that she isn’t “one of us”.
She coped by observing closely what went on in her children’s peer groups.
“Writing seemed to me to be a natural outlet,” she says. “I had an ear for teenage dialogue; growing up in the Bronx, you would hear things you shouldn’t.”
The end result was “Fragments”, which began on stage at The Street Theatre in 2019 as a close and personal look at eight young people experiencing anxiety, depression, neurodivergence, gender-questioning, cultural alienation, family problems and body dysmorphia.
While it was a sell-out season, only around 200 people saw it and its life could well have ended there.
“Theatre is so ephemeral,” she says.
Pierlot turned it into a playscript then tried other options and eventually it was published this year by Big Ideas Press as a young-adult hybrid novel titled “Fragments: Journeys from Isolation to Connection”.
Keen to encourage frank discussions about mental health, Pierlot applied for and won a lockdown-period grant to adapt “Fragments” to “go digital”.
While Pierlot worked on the series, she found herself looking back to her own street-smart childhood in the US and recollecting how she had valued her own agency.
“Although I was brought up in a Catholic family, I was always asking questions and I’m a firm believer that you can disagree.”
That’s why her new picture book offers the chance for young people to engage in critical thinking.
“Kids today are pressured by things like ATAR,” she says.
“The system tries to pigeonhole them, so my book encourages kids to have an outward looking attitude to solving problems.
“There’s a natural wonder in children, but it comes up against the system.”
Her illustrator and collaborator is Indonesian-Canberran artist Triandhika Anjani and “What Will You Make Today?” (published by Sam Rutter, of Canberra’s Storytorch Press) shows a group of children on a camping trip who motivate themselves to clean up a forest of litter, beautifully shown in her drawings.
The text consists entirely of open-ended questions, such as “Will you make a discovery? Will you make a change? Will you make yourself heard?”
And there’s not an adult in sight.
“What Will You Make Today?” launch outside Kidzplore, Dairy Road, Fyshwick, 1pm on June 24.
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