Brisbane Writers Festival
This September, Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) celebrates 50 years of readers and writers gathering to share their love of words. It’s perfect timing — 2012 is the National Year of Reading, and reading and writing are in the spotlight.
BWF started as Warana Writers Weekend in 1962, expanding in 1985 to Warana Writers Week before growing into the festival we know in 1996. It is a space for South East Queensland’s readers to meet and engage with some of their literary idols.
Outgoing Festival Director, Jane O’Hara, said the theme for the 2012 festival was sparked from a discussion with Maori writer Witi Ihimaera (author of Whale Rider), who commented that Australian festivals traditionally import guests from the northern hemisphere, and suggested it was time to look East.
“From there I took up the challenge to provide a platform in this year’s Festival to celebrate the Indigenous writing of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and New Zealand alongside our own extraordinary and inspiring Indigenous Australian writers. These writers are our neighbours, yet geographically, culturally and historically we have vastly different stories to share,” she said.
Ready to share these stories are Christophe Augias, Déwé Gorodé, Claudine Jacques and Nicolas Kurtovitch from New Caledonia; Titaua Peu, Christian Robert and Chantal Spitz from Tahiti; and New Zealand’s Witi Ihimaera.
But the northern hemisphere hasn’t been left out. Among the international writers are names such as Swedish crime writer Asa Larsson (The Black Path), Canadian poet a.rawlings, India’s Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis) and German poet Jan Wagner.
The USA has a host of representatives, including Jordan Bass, Claire Bidwell Smith (The Rules of Inheritance), John de Graaf (Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic), Eowyn Ivey (The Snow Child), Linda Sue Park (A Long Walk to Remember), Rachel Sommerville (California P.I.) and David Vann (Dirt).
Chris Cleave and Patrick Gale (A Perfectly Good Man), Richard Holloway (Leaving Alexandria: A memoir of faith and doubt), John Lanchester (Capital), Peter Lantos (Closed Horizon) and comedian Mark Watson (The Knot) will make the trek from the UK, along with along with Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat, whom I hope will answer questions about why writers allow good books to be turned into disappointing movies).
With 250 participants across 150 sessions, there are many stories to be told. While the traditional panel sessions still form the bulk of the Festival, there are plenty of new ways for fans and aspiring writers to interact with these guest writers.
One of the most innovative events was launched with the Brisbane Festival program earlier this month. An all-night event — the Literary Love-in — is a partnership between the two festivals. The night will feature a host of BWF guests reinterpreting Bowie songs, slamming it out with poetry and generally causing havoc in the Brisbane Powerhouse.
If you like a bit of controversy, the Great Debate on 8 September will feature Bob Katter and Germaine Greer, among others, arguing that reading the Bible is good for you.
For aspiring writers, 20 Pages in 20 Minutes gives emerging writers a chance to flash their work at the Managing Editor of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Jordan Bass, and literary agent Sophie Hamley. This is just one of a raft of workshops on writing and editing over the five days of the festival.
This year’s BWF icon — a heart sculpture constructed from 250kg of books — will feature at the festival. There will also be writing races, performances and readings, chats in The Writer’s Lounge, and the usual impromptu meetings with other readers and writers to pass the time. More than half of the events are free, so even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you can still have a great time.
The huge program has a lot to consider, so take your time — but not too much if you want to go to a ticketed event. Today (Aug 11) is the last day for early bird prices.
BRISBANE WRITERS FESTIVAL will take place at State Library of Queensland and other venues from Sep 5 to 9. www.bwf.org.au
As a poet, performer and writer, NERISSA ROWAN dabbles at the edges of Brisbane’s arts scene. She is on Queensland Poetry Festival’s Program Committee and reviews for Arts Hub.