Growing Up Australian - Word Play
From memory I attended my first Brisbane Writers’ Festival back in 1997. I recall doing a panel with my beautiful sistas Jackie Huggins and Melissa Lucashenko. I think I may have met Alexis Wright there for the first time also, but don’t quote me on that! I’ve always loved attending the BWF because there is nothing more inspiring or enjoyable than talking books and writing along the riverfront. Years ago events were in marquees, now many of them happen in the SLQLD auditorium and surrounds. Aside from the location in the warm weather, the festival brings together a wealth of interesting, talented, vibrant writers from around the country, and from across the globe. I’ve only ever had an enriching – albeit exhausting – time at the festival, and this year I think topped them all.
WORD PLAY: The educational component to the BWF is known as Word Play, and this year was my third time I was part of this innovative initiative, and the second time I got to experience the rush and enjoying of the on-line literature festival. Well supported on the IT side – shout out to Samantha, Nathan and team – I had 45 minutes to engage with students in a virtual classroom, talking to young people and their teachers and librarians all the way from Cairns down to Brisbane and out to Warwick. The OLF gives students in regions outside of the city, a wonderful opportunity to access, engage and share with a range of Australian authors they might otherwise – actually probably never – get the chance to meet in any other circumstance.
With the students from St Laurence's Brisbane at Word Play
As part of Word Play I Chaired a panel titled Growing up Australian, taking the stage with award-winning novelists Belinda Jeffrey (One Long Thread) and Patrick Holland (The Mary Smokes Boys) and the very cheeky author of the memoir The Family Law, Benjamin Law.
All their works uncovers the pains and joys of family relationships, especially between parents and their children, but also the strong bond between siblings, and those children left to fend for themselves.
ALICE PUNG: I’m a huge fan of Alice Pung. Many of you will know that it was Alice’s memoir Unpolished Gem that first triggered my idea to write my own memoir on identity. So, I was absolutely thrilled to be in conversation with Alice as part of the Word Play program but also to sit alongside her and Marieke Hardy and Mary Phillips the following day to discuss memoirs to an adult audience.
Witi Ihimeara and Flora Devatine
FRENCH WRITING IN THE PACIFIC: I was impressed by the inclusion of a French/Pacific strand in this year’s festival, and it’s not because some of the key speakers are my friends! It’s because we need to be considering the literature that is indeed in our region, and works particularly by our fellow/sista Indigenous writers like ChantalSpitz (Island of Shattered Dreams,) Flora Devatine, Dewe Gorode and Witi Ihimeara to name a few.
It was refreshing to hear discussions by French writers like Claudine Jacques and publisher Christian Robert (Director of Publications at AuVent des Iles, Tahiti) about the need for us to be considering French writing that not only comes from France but from French Polynesia and the Pacific.
But perhaps one of the most important lines of the symposium came from Witi, one of New Zealand's most well known and awarded authors, a suggestion to Australian readers “To look east!” And indeed we should.
THE ALL BLACKS: Perhaps the highlight for the festival was taking to the stage with the Literary All Blacks. Chaired by 98.9FM Tiga Bayles, I was thrilled to be able to share the launch of Dr Dylan Coleman’s first book, Mazing Grace (winner of the 2011 David Unaipon Award) and Professor Witi Ihimaera as we discussed the role and purpose of our works and how identity plays out in our writing. I’d been where Dylan is now, first book in hand, and I dream about being where Witi is as a highlighted celebrated and respected author. He is one of my literary heroes.
Dewe and Peter Brown performing at BL.INK
BL.INK: The BL.INK program hosted by kuril dhagun at the State Library of QLD is just another reason why I love that library, why I think it is the most innovative, exciting, community-focussed and inviting library in the country. Oh hell, let’s just say it, the world! An event held in the library café (outdoors), it’s a series of readings by local and visiting writers promoting the evolution and diversity of Indigenous writing across genres. We had a blast at BL.INK with stories by Dewe Gorode (translated by Peter Brown), poetry by Chantal Spitz (also translated by Peter), and some deadly poetry interspersed by Kaylah Tyson and our dynamic MC Nadine McDonald!
Why don’t we have these things in Sydney???
FRIENDS: The BWF is the perfect place to be reunited with and to make new friends - all with the love of books and writing in common. Shout outs of gratitude to the lovely Loretta Ryan and Annie Pappalardo (above) and Susan Johnson and Karsy Bee (below). Always great to see you in one of my favourite cities!
Finally, a huge congrats to Festival Director / CEO Jane O’Hara, Program Manager Charis Holt, Sally Patrick (Project Assistant) and all the wonderfully cheerful and helpful volunteers. Special mention to Nadine and Amanda Hayman from the State Library of QLD also! You all rock and I am so very grateful for the entire experience.