Angelamarie Malkoun is a self-described “book nerd” who’ll devour most anything between two covers. But the junior, pursuing a Writing Seminars and history double major, has a special interest in young adult (YA) fantasy books—an interest that developed after she discovered The Chronicles of Narnia books in the fourth grade. “I like to think that my imagination is more out-of-the-box and I would credit that to the fantasy literature I picked up,” she says.
But despite a certain young wizard named Harry Potter blowing up the genre with the mega-selling series of tomes by J.K. Rowling, Malkoun feels YA fantasy is often misunderstood outside of its fan base and dismissed as unworthy of analysis. “I think there is an aversion, sometimes, to the fantasy genre in academic settings, which I do not understand,” she says.
As part of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, Malkoun read some 100 fantasy books dating back to the 19th century, exploring themes and tracking the development of how their adolescent protagonists are depicted. (The “YA” designation didn’t really emerge until the 1950s, but she included early works, such as the 1840s French fairytale-like novella Undine.)
She had hoped to engage adolescents to read some of the books and hold discussions afterward—until she discovered there are prohibitions against research involving minors.
So Malkoun switched gears and connected instead with the books’ creators. She shot videos of her interviews with best-selling YA authors Kendare Blake, Cinda Williams Chima, Amy Ewing, and Tamora Price to create a video-log (vlog) project, “The Fiction Around Fantasy and YA.” Created from more than eight hours of raw footage, the vlog is broken up into manageable nuggets on a designated YouTube channel and Facebook page. (A Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award helped her acquire the camera and editing software.)
“I definitely had a bit of stardust in my eyes at first,” Malkoun says. “But all the authors were so relaxed and willing to talk.” The lively discussions covered the “fictions” surrounding the genre, with each author dismissing a prominent assumption: that YA plots and prose are dumbed-down. While the project will also include an academic paper, Malkoun specifically chose the vlog format so that she could still reach adolescents through social media. “I wanted to produce something that could catch the attention of teenagers and maybe give them motivation to try something new,” Malkoun says.
She has a couple more author interviews lined up and has one biggie she’s yet to land: a pow-wow with Potter-creator J.K. Rowling. Malkoun is currently studying abroad at the University of Oxford in Rowling’s native Britain. So far, her numerous efforts to reach YA’s superstar have been fruitless. “I’m going to keep trying,” Malkoun says. “I know Rowling doesn’t do interviews like this at the moment, but I have nothing to lose. Until then, I’ve got wonderful authors such as Gail Carson Levine, V.E. Schwab, Victoria Aveyard, and Cassandra Clare to track down.”