Category Archives: Literary Events

These are the blog posts for literary events that I go to, including events from the 2017 ACT Lit-Bloggers of the Year program.

Festival Muse 2019

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Festival Muse has become a Canberra Day long weekend tradition, and although I didn’t get to attend as many events as I would have liked, I did get to attend one very good one.

Creating Worlds

After a little silent reading picnic, a couple of friends in my fantasy book club and I decided to finish off the afternoon with something very on-theme. Horror and speculative fiction author Kaaron Warren chaired a discussion with other local authors Sam Hawke and Leife Shallcross on what goes into creating worlds.

From left to right: authors Sam Hawke, Leife Shallcross and Kaaron Warren

The event began with readings by each author of a passage from one of their books. Shallcross read a passage from her novel “The Beast’s Heart”, a retelling of classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Hawke read a passage from her epic fantasy novel “City of Lies” and Warren read a passage from her book “Walking the Tree”. One of the most striking differences between the three novels was the size of the worlds. Where Warren’s book takes place on an island and Hawke’s in a city, Shallcross’ world is much smaller and takes place (for the most part) within the confines of a single house.

The authors talked about finding a balance in how much detail to provide the reader. Hawke said that as a writer, it is a game she plays with readers deciding how much description to give them and how much to let them imagine for themselves. They also compared writing different points of view, and the difference it makes to what characters notice and focus on.

Warren then asked the authors how they found coming up with names and words when writing speculative fiction. Warren said in her own book, she drew on botanical names to name her characters. Hawke said that she focused a lot on food that she wanted to eat, however she was careful not to exhaust the reader with too much new vocabulary. She said that she struggled quite a lot with names, and in fact wrote a third of her book with [name] in place of her main character’s name.

Hawke also gave us a little behind-the-scenes insight into a tool that she uses to come up with new fantasy words. She explained Vulgar, an online tool that generates fantasy languages which, if you’re a fantasy writer, you may wish to check out yourself. She said that she had been reluctant to adapt existing languages because she didn’t want linguists asking her why she called a lady “Chamberpot” or something!

Shallcross said that she drew a lot from Germanic names, and used names from a map, but did receive critique from a cartographer friend who pointed out that all the names she had used had the same rhythm. Warren said that she had received criticism from the same cartographer when she first drew a map of her world. She said that it had been terrible, because it was basically just a big circle, and the cartographer said that people living in her world on the edge of an enormous tree would think of themselves as being connected to other communities in a line rather than in a circle.

The writers agreed that when worldbuilding, you need to get the parts that you’re focusing on right and everything else can be fuzzy and allow readers to use their imagination. Hawke said that unlike many people, she was not particularly visual and when she imagines things, she tends to focus on touch, smell and other sense. She said that as long as you get the little things right, readers will trust you.

Warren then explored how the writers felt about actually knowing a place. Shallcross said that it was challenging, not having traveled to France, and instead she used meticulous research of maps and historical photographs to understand place. Hawke said that she had not traveled much growing up, and what she lacked in personal experience she tended to make up for with imagining her own worlds and research as she went along. Warren then shared about a short story she is working on about the demolition of the Northbourne flats. She said that after seeing all the steel, brick and glass as she drove by, she was drawn to visiting them in person to see how they felt and to get the smell of them as inspiration for her story.

The talk then opened up to audience questions. There were quite a few speculative fiction buffs in the audience and it was really great to see so many different takes on what goes into to building fictional worlds. Although unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to catch all the other great events of Festival Muse this year, this one was definitely a great way to round off a long weekend.

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Lost the Plot – Episode 30 – Book Launch

Live book launch event at Paperchain Bookshop in Manuka with Sean Costello and Juliette Dudley for Capital Yarns Volume 2

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Show Notes

More street library vandalism
ABC Facebook Post

Little Free Libraries Founder Todd Bol Dies
SBS Facebook Post

Worldbuilders
Website
Patrick Rothfuss’ Blog

Asia Bookroom’s Christmas Fundraiser
Episode 19 – Giving Books
Asia Bookroom Facebook Post

50th Man Booker Prize
Website

Rooney Prize for Irish Literature
Post-Gazette Article
Daily Edge Article

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards
Website
SMH Article

America’s Best-Loved Novel
PBS Website

Fake Dead Sea Scrolls
ABC Article

“The Blue Salt Road” by Joanne Harris
Joanne Harris’ Facebook Post

“Cedar Valley” by Holly Throsby
Dymocks Facebook Post
Muse Canberra Website

Where.The.Books.Go
Instagram Page

“The Magic Pudding” 100 year anniversary edition
Harper Collins Facebook Post
Harper Collins Website

Narnia reboot by Netflix
Neflix Website
Gizmodo Article

Dirt Music Adaptation
Cinema Australia Article

Book Week Film
Facebook Post
Facebook Page

Man burns books in Iowa
Sioux City Journal Article
KWWL Article
NY Times Article

Man stabbed in Antarctica for allegedly spoiling the endings of books
NY Post Article
Live Science Article

Human chain moves bookstore
The Guardian Article

“Capital Yarns Volume 2” by Sean Costello
Buy Online
Episode 25 of Lost the Plot

Juliette Dudley, Poyo Studio
Website

 

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Sydney Writers’ Festival – Recognise

This was my fourth event for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I knew that this event would be really interesting because of the incredibly diverse experience of the panelists – all three of whom are Aboriginal. Unfortunately, I was so absorbed in the event I forgot to take any photographs, so instead here is a photo of the Sydney Writers’ Festival comma.

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Academic Marcia Langton convened the panel which also featured journalist Stan Grant and playwright Nakkiah Lui. Before the panel even started, all three panelists were talking animatedly and it was pretty clear that this was going to be a very interesting mix of perspectives. Langton began by asking Lui about winning the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature for her play “Black is the New White”. Lui said that she was ordering a baguette in France when she got the message that she had won. Langton asked whether she had pitched it like “Romeo and Juliet” and Lui said no, it was more like “Meet the Fockers”. She wanted to talk about race, class and love and make it funny.

Langton then asked Grant about his piece about his grandfather and equality in the latest edition of “Griffith Review”. The issue features predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers which Grant said “punctures the lazy idea of homogeneity”. Grant launched straight into unpacking racism and said that at the heart of all conflict is a solitarist identity, and a history of grievances. He cautioned against the narrative of the “other”, because when identity is constructed that way, it ceases to be healthy.

The panelists discussed some examples of the way identity has been handled in Australia, including the Australia Day debate and, even though acknowledging that Sydney is NFL country, Adam Goodes. Grant said that Goodes was battling with ghosts, and said that he recognised that howl of humiliation – he’d seen it in his dad who was locked up and beaten, and his grandfather who was tied like a dog to a tree. He said that he remembered a time when he felt like “there was no other place for us except for the outskirts of town”. Even though Adam Goodes is considered an assimilated man, Grant said that he was still torn between not belonging and paying a price.

Lui asked whether racism is a choice, and if it is, how do you dismantle that? Grant said that everyone is damned by the discourse of race. He referred to a concept called racecraft, the idea that race and racism are fictional constructs which people imbue with meaning. He said that people are discriminated against not because of colour, but because of the meaning that people have decided to attribute to that colour. However, Grant said that Australia has thus far been lazy about deconstructing racism.

Lui said that she had never thought of herself as Aboriginal until someone called her Aboriginal. She quipped that she writes black characters because she wants to give them jobs. Lui noted that nobody ever asks how white a person is or discusses a white playwright and how they handled whiteness. She stressed that various identities don’t have to be in conflict.

Grant said that when he lived overseas, it was the first time he was considered Australian unencumbered. He said that the race war in Australia has a different shape to other countries, and asked the question about how Aboriginal people can reach their full humanity. He said that agency is not administered. The panelists discussed the Census, and that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander box doesn’t capture the nuance of identity.

Grant said that you can’t put identity into a box when you opt out of administration and noted that people often can’t handle when Aboriginal people don’t fit in the boxes they have been assigned. People would think, “you can’t really be Aboriginal if you were a journalist in Beijing”. He said that his kids are experiencing the same thing now. They are in a private school that gives scholarships to Aboriginal children, but the school doesn’t know how to handle them because they are also Aboriginal but are not in need of scholarships. The panelists agreed that there is a perception that if you are too successful, you can’t be Aboriginal.

Langton talked briefly about tension between the recent protests about the “Stolenwealth Games” and the traditional owners who poured their heart and soul into the Welcome to Country. Lui said that we don’t talk about the diversity of blackness. She said that it’s her prerogative as a writer to have people see the humanity in Aboriginal people and she said that she wants people to care about Aboriginal people. They all noted that history is the struggle for recognition.

Grant said that Western civilisation is the jailer who slips you the key. He noted that Thomas Jefferson signed the document, but was a holder of slaves. Jefferson held society to a standard that he couldn’t meet himself. Grant cautioned that democracy is in retreat, and is society is turning away from academia and expertise. He said that we must jealously guard the principles of democracy.

The panel talked about how Malcolm Turnbull rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a true expression of democracy. They also discussed the section 44 citizenship crisis in Parliament, and agreed that section 44 of the Constitution would likely be amended before recognition. The panel noted that there is a play in section 44, but Lui said she didn’t think any play could possibly beat the drama of real life when it comes to the citizenship crisis.

The panelists noted that democracy is a game of numbers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t have the numbers because of genocide. Grant said that we must be more sophisticated in how we apply democracies, and that despite what Turnbull may say, group rights actually strengthen democracy. He listed unions, political parties, electorates and even States as examples of group rights.

Lui again said that she just wants people to see the humanity of Aboriginal people. She told a heartbreaking story about her grandmother whose house had termites. The house wasn’t fixed by the housing commission, and her grandmother fell through the floor one day and died. Lui wrote this story into her play “Kill the Messenger” and said that you can frame experience around loss. However she worries that history becomes culture, and she really wants to see Aboriginal people stepping out of that narrative and instead on bikes eating baguettes.

The panel reflected on the idea that a nation is founded on what we forget as well as what we remember. They prompted us to consider not just what is a nation, but why a nation. Grant referred to Michal Bilewicz’s concept of politics, dividing participants into two groups with the following characteristics:

ALTRUISTS                         NARCISSISTS
Look to the future            Rake over the past
Positive-sum                      Zero-sum
Share                                   Exclude
Work together                   Gang up
United by values               United by race and culture
Opponents complement  Opponents are traitors

The panel noted that Aboriginal people have not used violence to gain rights but have used legality and generosity. This was a brilliant panel with three very different but complementary points of view. Although I didn’t quote much of what she said, Langton was an excellent facilitator who drew two very different voices together. This was a highly intellectual and nuanced discussion, and as soon as Sydney Writers’ Festival releases the recording, you should definitely have a listen.

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Lost the Plot – Episode 24 – Sydney Writers’ Festival Special

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Show Notes

Part 1 – Friday Afternoon

Sydney Writers’ Festival
Kendall Kirkwood
The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness
“Release” by Patrick Ness
Terra Nullius” by Claire G. Coleman
Canberra
“The Trauma Cleaner” by Sarah Krasnostein, narrated by Rachael Tidd
21st Biennale of Sydney

Events:
Eileen Myles: To Dig a Hole in Eternity
SWF Gala: Power
Sarah Krasnostein: The Trauma Cleaner
Writing for YA Books and Film
Leigh Sales: On Doubt
Annabel Crabb’s BooKwiz
Recognise
Gay for Page
Power Play: Toxic Masculinity in Storytelling
Eileen Myles: Straight Expectations
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

Part 2 – Friday Night

Eileen Myles

Image may contain: 2 people, including Kendall Kirkwood, people smiling, close-up and indoor

Eileen and Kendall, Photo by Kendall Kirkwood

SWF Gala: Power

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Tayari Jones
BookScan
Judy Blume

Part 3 – Saturday Morning

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My skirt!

Sarah Krasnostein: The Trauma Cleaner

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On Doubt” by Leigh Sales
Biography of Stella Miles Franklin
Brokeback Mountain

Part 4 – Saturday Middle of the Day

Writing for YA Books and Film

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Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews
Chaos Walking” by Patrick Ness

Part 5 – Saturday Afternoon

BookWiz with Annabel Crabb
Tim Minchin
RocKwiz
Richard Fidler
Julia Zemiro

No automatic alt text available.

Photo by Kendall Kirkwood, who took very good care of my book

Ghost Empire” by Richard Fidler
Saga Land” by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason

Part 6 – Saturday Night

Recognise

Stan Grant
Nakkiah Lui
Marcia Langton
What I meant to say was Racecraft, not Racehunt!
Orlando” by Virginia Woolf
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J K Rowling
The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams
The Night Bookmobile” by Audrey Niffenegger

Gay for Page

Image may contain: 4 people

Photo by Kendall Kirkwood

Masha Gessen
Christos Tsiolkas (sorry for mispronouncing his name)
Eileen Myles (preferred pronouns are they, them)
Sally Rugg
Carmen Maria Machado
Yrsa Daley-Ward

Book recommendations
The Sailor Dog” by Margaret Wise Brown
Mister Dog: the dog who belonged to himself” by Margaret Wise Brown
Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
Jennie” by Paul Galico
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by Edward Albee
Kama Sutra” by  Vātsyāyana
Enid Blyton
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis
Madeline” by Ludwig Bemelmans
Sarah Waters
Jeanette Winterson
A Restricted Country” by Joan Nestle
The Motion of Light and Water” by Samuel R. Delaney
The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
Shirley Jackson

Junot Diaz Controversy

Part 7 – Sunday Afternoon

Eileen Myles

Power Play: Toxic Masculinity in Storytelling

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Gabriel Tallent
Ceridwen Dovey

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

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Sorry for the terrible photo – I was listening so intently, I didn’t bother checking it.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms” by Anita Heiss

Part 8 – Sunday Night

Books we bought:

An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia” Edited by Anita Heiss
Eileen Myles

Authors I saw:

Kate Forsyth
Tom Keneally

#MeToo event with Tracey Spicer and Eva Cox

Virginia Woolf’s actual quote:

Think of a book as a very dangerous and exciting game, which it takes two to play at.

 

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Sydney Writers’ Festival – Writing for YA Books and Film

My third event for the Sydney Writers’ Festival was Writing for YA Books and Film. I was so overcome with the opportunity to see Patrick Ness, I was willing to ignore warnings about the distance between Carriageworks and Parramatta, and leave the previous event early to try to make it in time.

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This event was part of the #AllDayYA segment of the Sydney Writers’ Festival that was taking place at the Riverside Theatres. After a walking, train and Uber combo I finally made it to the event only a little after it has started. YA authors Patrick Ness and Jesse Andrews were being interviewed by Will Kostakis and when I snuck into the front, it looked like the interview was already in full swing.

Ness and Andrews had fantastic rapport from the very beginning. Andrews was talking about plots and how he thinks they’re overrated, and Ness quipped “The only ones who complain about plots are the ones who can’t do it.” Acknowledging that it was maybe a bit mean, Andrew later on asked Ness whether he wanted him to be mean back. Ness vehemently said no, and that “I am way to sensitive for that”. He said, “I tease with affection, but if someone teases me, all I hear is ‘I have always hated you’.”

A big part of the talk was about adapting books for film. Kostakis asked Ness how writing screenplays affects his writing. Ness said that he always encourages writers to try different mediums. He said that there is a big difference between small budget films and big budget films because so many people’s jobs depend on its success. However he did note that his book “Release” was basically unfilmable. Based on “Mrs Dallaway”, it takes place over the course of one day, from sunrise to sunset, and the story is mostly internal.

Ness talked about the difficulties he had with a particular screenplay where he was writing someone else’s story. The film had been in production for 10 years, the story was terrible, but he managed to rewrite it, keep some elements and turn it into a happy family comedy. The author was apparently so mad, he refused to renew the option unless Patrick Ness was fired. Ness leaned back in his chair and said that the film still hasn’t been made, so who is the real winner?

Kostakis asked how the authors felt about collaboration and not knowing how much of the film was theirs. Ness pointed out how much of a high class problem to have, like “not enough foie gras with your brioche“. Essentially though, he recommended that authors whose books have been adapted simply “take the money, buy a new kitchen and forget the rest”. Even when the film has been made, the book still remains.

Now, I cannot continue writing at this point without saying something about Jesse Andrews. Even though he was not the author I had come to see, he was incredibly funny and had a particular brand of visual humour that I’m now very curious to see how it translates into books. At one point he was flailing around in his chair (I can’t quite recall why), and he said “Please don’t take videos of this, it doesn’t translate well!” He actually reminded me quite a bit of seeing Jasper Fforde. I think comedy in books is quite an underrated skill and I think I will have to find myself a copy of “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” to read now. Kostakis was laughing so much at Jesse through the entire event that he didn’t really get the opportunity to say much at all.

At this point, Ness and Andrews took questions from the audience. One lady, who said she was a teacher, stood up and asked about the M-rating that Ness’ film “A Monster Calls” and talked about the difficulties she had experienced trying to show it to her students. Ness was visibly shocked at this question, and couldn’t believe that the film had an M-rating. He said, “it’s not like there were willies showing”.

Another young woman from the audience asked Ness how he felt about killing off main characters in stories. Ness said he felt great. The young woman said that she had played around with almost killing off main characters to which Ness replied “Almost doesn’t mean shit, honey.” He advised the audience to write what you would want to read yourself. If you’re having the best time murdering people left, right and centre, as long as it’s on the page, go for it.

It was hard not to notice that everyone had been asking Ness the majority of the questions, so Andrews jumped in to answer one as a joke. He asked, “Can I pitch Moby Dick in space?” to which Ness replied that his next book is actually going to be narrated by a whale.

The conversation then turned to whether authors can write about anyone. Ness recollected a time he had pitched an idea where every secondary character was a woman – shopkeepers, police officers – and wondered whether anyone would notice. He recommended not asking permission when it came to increasing diversity in your books. Andrews then interjected by singing, “White guys, we’re a bunch of white guys, talking about…” Andrews did go on to make some interesting points however about the make up of bestselling authors generally, and how that leads to certain kinds of characters being overrepresented and questions about who has access to storytelling.

He came back to the question of whether anyone can write about anyone. He said that there is no recipe for when it’s right. You can’t legislate because there is no clear answer except that you need fewer dudes, fewer white guys and fewer hetero people writing stories. Andrews concluded that one of the problems is that the financial backers are so risk adverse. Clearly black superheroes and women superheroes are successful, but there needs to be more diverse executives to invest.

This was really a brilliant event and I’m so, so glad I made the effort to trek across Sydney to see it. The icing on the cake was getting my book signed. The line was absolutely enormous, and I have to say I was amazed that some people had stacks of up to six books to get signed. When I finally made it to the front of the line, Ness was so delighted to sign a book for someone called Angharad. He asked me whether I had read his trilogy yet (which I haven’t), and he told me that he has a character called Angharad who is – wait for it – a talking horse. Now, I get a lot of books signed with the vague hopes that someone will name a character after me, but I have never had an author tell me that they already had written a book with my name in it.

I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, but I did quickly take the opportunity to let Ness know that I wished someone had been writing books like his when I was a teenager. He leaned in and said he did too – that’s why he writes them.

 

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Sydney Writers’ Festival – Sarah Krasnostein: The Trauma Cleaner

Content warning: trauma, abuse, LGBTIQ issues, death, suicide

My second event for the Sydney Writers’ Festival was Sarah Krasnostein: The Trauma Cleaner. I was really excited for this event because I just recently finished Krasnostein’s book (review pending) which won two categories in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award – the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Prize for Non-Fiction.

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The event was held in a huge auditorium at Carriageworks and we arrived just as it had started. Krasnostein’s book is a biography on a trans woman called Sandra Pankhurst who is a trauma cleaner. The book flits back and fourth between Sandra’s traumatic childhood and early history to Krasnostein’s own experiences accompanying Sandra on cleaning jobs. Krasnostein was interviewed by Australian novelist Ashley Hay.

Hay asked Krasnostein about Sandra’s clients, and Krasnostein said that she went to see three times the number of clients that made it into the book. Krasnostein reflected on the enormity of the mess in the houses caused by bodies left unfound, suicides, hoarding and animal hoarding. She said, “You need an industrial cleaner for those environments”.

Krasnostein read a passage from the book about her difficulties in establishing when exactly events in Sandra’s life took place. Throughout the book, Sandra struggles to remember exactly when her parents kicked her out of the house as a young boy, or when she began to transition, or when she started working as a sex worker. Hay asked Krasnostein about the gaps in Sandra’s memories, and how she coped with the knowledge that she was never going to get a clear timeline. Krasnostein said initially she was frustrated that nothing would align but eventually she realised that the disjuncts “weren’t screwing up the story, those disjuncts were the story”.

Hay asked her about her own role in the story and Krasnostein explained that sometimes the writer has to become a character, and that putting herself in the story as the railing or the banister was guiding the reader through the story.

Hay then asked about how her background in law, forensics and justice came into play in researching and writing the book. Krasnostein said “context is everything”. Law taught her how to go about fact-finding and the difference between discernment and judgment. She said that her background taught her when to rely on her intuition. Krasnostein wryly said that as much as she wanted to include 20 pages of endnotes, she was discouraged. She said that apparently other people don’t enjoy reading footnotes as much as she does (though I certainly do!).

Hay asked Krasnostein about whether this book might be considered voyeuristic. Krasnostein cheerfully responded by saying “Come for the voyeurism, stay for the lesson”. She said that one thing she learned while writing this book was empathy, and that the clients of Sandra’s she met were no different from us at all. She said that when life threw them that phone call that we’re all just two seconds away from, they didn’t have the support they needed and now they are literally buried under decades of pain.

Hay brought up Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and asked how that might apply to some of Sandra’s clients who were struggling with hoarding. Krasnostein said that in her opinion, it was less about whether a sweater brings you joy, and more about letting go of the past. She talked about the excruciating vulnerability of making connections with other people. Although she doesn’t have the experience of growing up trans in Melbourne in the 1960s and 1970s, she has felt shame and pain and that helped her make a connection with Sandra while writing the book.

Sandra gave Krasnostein a huge lesson about the nature of resilience, and also showed her how hugely important it is to sustain those human connections around us. Krasnostein said that we love imperfectly. You have to get over the stuff that doesn’t matter because that closeness and vulnerability is what will save you.

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Sydney Writers’ Festival – SWF Gala: Power

Content warning: language, queer issues, adult themes

This was my first time attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival and it was an absolutely epic weekend. I had tickets to 7 events over 3 days and I travelled up to Sydney with my friend Kendall with a bag full of books to get signed. I’ll be sharing more about the trip as a whole later this week, but for now I’ll be blogging about each event I went to.

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The first event I went to was SWF Gala: Power, the big Friday night event at the Sydney Town Hall. This was also my first time at the Town Hall and it is an imposing venue. The perfect place to really get into the nitty-gritty of what power means.

The panel was hosted by Jamila Rizvi who opened the evening with a meditation on the subject of power from a great Australian poet:

“This time, we know we all can stand together
With the power to be powerful
Believing we can make it better

Ooh, we’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son, oh
Give a look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make the noise and make it clear, oh-o-o-o, woah-o-o-o
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear, oh-o-o-o, woah-o-o-o”

Farno

The audience was pretty warmed up with that introduction, and each of the panelists took a turn talking about their understanding of power.

Aminatou Sow

Sow, who hosts the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” said that she was just trying to make Oprah proud. She said the first book she read in English was “Feminism is for Everybody”, which was simply about seeking an end to sexism and the successes and failures of feminism. She said it was 140 pages that changed her life and gave her a vocabulary to put into words what she had felt all along and what she didn’t have the models or the words to explain it in her native language, French.

Sow was the queen of one-liners and said, “I do not drink from the koolaid of women’s empowerment”. She said that if activism is fun, you’re probably not doing the work. She said that it’s easy to spot someone who has no skin in the game – they do not read books.

Sow stressed the importance of giving credit to those who have shaped your ideas. She said, don’t just call yourself an activist – DO activism. She told people to “read books and find the language to end oppression”.

Masha Gessen

Gessen is an author of a number of books including “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” and “The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin“. 

Gessen reflected that at a Sydney Writers’ Festival some years ago, she said something that got her into so much trouble that she was driven out of Russia. Prior to the Australian marriage equality vote, she had made comments about the institution of marriage. A conservative newspaper published a story along the lines of “Homosexual activist reveals true goal of LGBTIQ movement”, the story was published in Russian, and her life was changed.

Gessen said that she was interested in the power of uncertainty. Uncertainty, she explained, was at odds with journalism and writing with certainty: the certainty of certainty that we see in Trump’s America, and even the certainty of experience.

Gessen asked the audience to imagine a post-war world where people value each other for being human and their different ways of learning. At this point, the audience clapped (which the Auslan interpreter also signed). Gessen then asked the audience to imagine a world without borders, architects who can build buildings with no set entrances and that can be taken apart, political parties with no platform.

Gessen ended on a discussion of uncertainty of gender and said that when people ask about preferred pronouns, Gessen says “I have no preferred pronoun. There is no reason to use third person pronouns in my presence”. On androgyny, Gessen said that at the airport, there was a question of who should pat her down: the male security guard, or the female security guard. Gessen simply said, “I don’t care”, and removed embarrassment in a tiny island of uncertainty.

Sally Rugg

Rugg was a campaign director at GetUp! for the marriage equality campaign and began her talk with statement that power was how the country won marriage equality.

Rugg first realised she was gay at the age of 19 when she had a penny drop moment. She said at the time it felt like cancer, something she didn’t want and that she couldn’t control in a world suddenly hostile towards her.

She talked about the first same sex kiss on Australian TV and Lloyd Grosse’s HIV activism, and said that every inch of LGBTIQ progress has been fought for with stories. She said that queer couples would haul their children to parliament so they could look MPs in the eye and beg for their families not to be put to a vote.

Rugg explained the power of stories to make political change, but noted the pressure on marginalised groups to be perfect. She said the story she told about being gay feeling like having cancer, she didn’t tell the other parts of realising her sexuality and the stories of losing her virginity or making out with girls in nightclubs. Rugg said that when marginalised communities are forced to sanitise their stories so that they appear worthy and look like the powerful, then it is not true equality.

She said that the stories must not just be preserved for the audiences we are trying to persuade.

Tanya Plibesek

Now, Plibersek’s talk was good, but Jamila Rizvi’s introduction was amazing. She introduced Plibersek like a character from Game of Thrones: Tanya Plibesek, of the House on the Hill, first of her name. Plibersek is the deputy leader of the Labor Party and an MP in Australia’s Parliament.

Plibersek also opened with a reference to music, however she went with John Lennon’s “Power to the People”. She noted that power is not bestowed by divine right, it lives in the people and it belongs to them. It remains the people’s gift to bestow and withdraw. Her talk was focused on the power and value of democracy.

Plibersek paraphrased Winston Churchill, who said

“…it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The audience was a bit slow to warm to Plibersek.

Plibersek told the audience that this is the 12th consecutive year of global decline in freedom. There has been a decline in the support of democracy, particularly in among millennials. She said that the best way to support democracy is to broaden the circle of people it applies to.

Plibersek said that the price of democracy around the world is high, and we dishonour the people who fight for it by taking it for granted. She implored people to reject cynicism and jump into the fray. She said that democracy means engagement in civil society and things like memberships in unions and a free and diverse press.

Plibersek warned that Australia’s level of media concentration is one of the highest in the world and it is getting worse with fake news and social media echo chambers. Plibersek says that the is a proponent for free speech. Not the pretend kind, the kind that gives you the right to be a bigot, but the ability to criticise government.

Tayari Jones

Author Tayari Jones spoke next, and she said that she had been apprehensive to speak about power. As a woman of colour, she often felt like her conversations about power involved necessary discussion about being excluded from power and she just didn’t want to have to go through it all again.

She said that she could talk about the impact of police violence on her community, all the way to the fact the microphone doesn’t match her face.

Jones instead decided to tell a story about how she managed to regain some power. She had already had two books published and was writing her third when her publisher decided not to run it. Her publisher had bought some software called BookScan – and I tell you now, the way that Jones said the word BookScan was utterly compelling – and BookScan told the publisher that she hadn’t sold enough books. Her publisher decided not to run the book, and even though she kept working on the book and tried to live by the lessons she taught her students – don’t write what you think will get you published, but try to get published what you want to write – nobody else would publish the book either.

Some time later, Jones was invited to a writers’ festival. She was the only black woman invited, however she didn’t want to go because of how ashamed she was of the impact BookScan had had on her writing career. However, she nevertheless felt obligated to go because of the fear that if she didn’t, they wouldn’t invite other black women.

She got a call from the festival saying they couldn’t find any copies of her books to sell. It turned out that not only had her publishers cancelled her third book, but they had put her first two books out of print. Jones was mortified, and had no idea what to do. Shortly afterwards, she got another call saying that they had found four books for her to sign at the event. It turned out her dad had sent through the two copies and had hit her uncle up for two more.

Jones spoke to her dad and asked, what would she do when she ran out of the four books she had? Her dad said, if you run out, just smile and tell them you’ve sold out.

So Jones went to the event, she signed her four books, and sure enough a fifth person came along. Jones smiled, and told her that she had sold out. However, the woman said that she had heard Jones was out of print. More than that, she had heard that Jones couldn’t get a publisher. Jones said she was so embarrassed.

The woman took her hand, led her across the foyer, and literally put her hand in the hand of a publisher. One that had already rejected her third book. She and the publisher chatted for a bit, and then the publisher turned to her and asked how she knew Judy.

Jones was confused, and said I don’t know a Judy. The publisher said, you know, the woman you came over with, Judy Blume! Jones said it was like her nerdy childhood had come to rescue her in the time of need. However when she turned to where Judy had been, she had disappeared like a magical fairy godmother.

Jones said that her hard work had intersected with Judy Blume and her generosity and power, and finished by concluding that art will always find a way.

Warwick Thornton

Aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton was up next.

He started out by reminiscing about how when he was 6 years old, he lived on the kind of street that all towns have – where the kids are hungry, the mums are working and the dads are full of shit. He said that he had a best friend called David, and by sheer coincidence, he became a camera assistant and David became a boom swinger.

They had adventures together on sets all around Australia. They got older and uglier and they moved from documentaries to features. They worked together on the film The Sapphires, and his friend told him that he had a great idea for a movie.

Now, Thornton said that he hears that a lot, and usually says to them go ahead and write it. He said, 99% of the time he never hears from them about it again. However, this time, when he met David up in Arnham land on a project, David told him he had written the film.

Thornton was torn: he wanted to be a good mate, but what was he going to do if he read it and it was terrible? He’d have to tell him it was bad. He put it off and put it off but then he finally read it: it was terrible, but it was also brilliant because David had something to say.

He had written it from the heart. It didn’t have any structure, but Thornton said that he had been unable to recognise its brilliance when he first read it due to elitist crap. He told David what he thought, and that it needed a lot of work. David told him that he understood: he had just wanted to tell his grandfather’s story.

David had told the truth about his grandfather. Thornton said that history was told by the coloniser, and that it had been told with a lead pencil and an eraser. Thornton said that he had lost his connection and had been too busy focusing on what Hollywood expected. So he hooked David up with a screenwriter called Stephen, and together they made a film called Sweet Country.

Wesley Morris

The last speaker of the day was Wesley Morris, a journalist and critic with the New York Times.

Morris began by saying that he was feeling very literal today. He hadn’t gone to therapy this week, and he hadn’t really prepared a talk, so he wanted to talk about something that had happened to him recently.

He said that he had been dumped about a week ago. It was a plutonic dumping, they weren’t romantically involved, but the person had been in his life since he was about 17 years old.

He actually hadn’t heard from him for about 9 months, and after a few unanswered messages, the friend finally agreed to talk to him about what had happened. Morris got slotted into a 10:00am to 10:40am timeframe, and so he knew it wasn’t going to be a long, in-depth conversation.

He said that he had worked with his friend for about 2 years, and his friend told him that the reason they weren’t speaking anymore is because that he apparently did not help his friend at a moment when he needed help. Morris said that he had no idea his friend needed help. His friend said that Morris had the power to help him and chose not to use it: he could have used whatever clout he had in his position to speak on his friend’s behalf.

Morris was taken aback by this. He said that he had never though of himself as really having any power to help others like that.

Morris said that one factor in this equation was that he is black and his friend is white. He doesn’t carry himself through the world thinking about the power he has, but his friend does think, when moving through a space, about the power he carries. Morris said he doesn’t even know what that looks like because he simply doesn’t believe he has that power.

He said that his friend has the power – he gets himself into nightclubs, and can get people to call him back.

Morris realised that this is a fundamental difference between them. When his friend goes to work, he takes his family and his day-to-day life with him. When Morris goes to work, he takes 400 years of people working so that he has the right to go to work every day. He doesn’t have time to think about the power he has and how he can use it on people. He doesn’t think of himself as having institutional power.

This was a curiously intimate discussion, and Morris clarified he wasn’t looking for a response. He said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen with his friend, but he asked the audience to think about the power they do have and how they use it.

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