- Melvin BurgessAuthor–UK
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There are few authors who can claim to have changed the shape of publishing in their country. When Melvin Burgess was given a lifetime achievement award by The Bookseller's Young Adult Book Prize in 2016, this marked not only the twentieth anniversary of the publication of his most celebrated title, Junk, but also a recognition that the book had given birth to a new genre of writing and publishing for older teenagers. Burgess is best known now for books which have tested the boundaries of teenage fiction.
Before Junk, Burgess wrote a number of novels for children, beginning with The Cry of the Wolf (1990), which were critically well received and which—whether about the natural or the human world, written as mythic fantasy or social realism—showed a sympathy for outsiders and an ability to create gripping stories from lives that are socially isolated, misunderstood, and often victims of psychological and physical violence.
It was at the suggestion of Klaus Flugge, his publisher, that Burgess wrote Junk (1996), a book based on Burgess's own experiences in the 1980s. Allowing each of its characters to tell their own stories, the book followed the lives of a group of friends living in a squat and dealt frankly with their sexual relationships and drug taking. It was a critical and popular sensation, attracting controversy mainly for its refusal to explicitly condemn its characters' behavior. Burgess followed this success with Bloodtide (1999), creating a dystopian fantasy of rare visceral power from the Volsunga Saga, which had fascinated him since his childhood and which he completed with Bloodsong (2005).
The books that followed continued to combine social criticism with literary experimentation, to give a voice to society's outsiders, and to attract controversy. Lady: My Life as a Bitch (2001) imagined a sexually active seventeen-year-old transformed into a dog. Doing It (2003) looked at the sexual attitudes of teenage boys and included an exploitative sexual relationship with a teacher. Burgess has described his most recent works, Nicholas Dane (2010) and Killing All Enemies (2011), as "Found Fiction," since both are based on the experience of young people as revealed in interviews with them.
An outspoken critic of the censorship of books and other media for teenagers, Burgess has consistently supported the right of young people to have access to material that deals realistically but responsibly with the pressures and choices in their lives and listens to what they have to say. He regards his work as providing "imaginative structures" to help teenagers "get to grips with an ever more complex and rapidly changing world," when they themselves are "changing so much [and] risk taking so actively." He says,
The most moving and enthusiastic, as well as the most common emails and letters I've had from teenagers, speak of the sheer relief and joy they've had at finding something that seems to actually reflect what's going on in their own heads in an honest and authentic fashion. [End Page 38]