WillyLitFest 2019 – Wrap Up and Video!

I was invited to attend Williamstown Literary Festival this June and IT WAS BRILLIANT!

Attending a regional literary festival was by far the best, most thought-provoking, decision I’ve made this year. WillyLitFest was a gem and I can’t wait to go again.

“The biggest and boldest literary festival in Melbourne’s West.”

PANEL 1:
30 Years of Writing – Writers Victoria 

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From left to right (authors): Lili Wilkinson, Terry Jaensch, Katherine Brabon, Lee Kofman.

These four Aussie authors (pictured above) talked about their immersion in books, how their imagination linked them to a sense of freedom, and how readers online have created their own spaces for themselves.

Lee Kofman, author of Imperfect: How Bodies Shape the People We Become, knew she wanted to be a writer at a very young age. Books were about imagining a future for herself. Lee was very sick but survived open heart surgery at eight years old.

I’m paraphrasing, but Lee said:

‘When I wrote my first book, even my publisher said it was terrible. It wasn’t believable, but it really happened.’

This was because her mother, understandably, was rather protective of her as a child. But, one time, her mother asked Lee to go and get sugar from the local store. And Lee stepped outside, looked both ways…

…and was HIT BY A BUS. WHAT.

And even though this REALLY HAPPENED, the entire audience laughed. Surely it was a cliche, a joke? Her publisher didn’t believe it either, even though it really happened.

Katherine Brabon, author of The Memory Artist, is a dreamer and a reader and didn’t start writing nearly as early as Lee. But she still embraced the mentality of being a reader.

‘There are so many opportunities, especially now, to become a writer. And there are so many of us.’

Fascinated by how a culture remembers things, how trauma exists in families and societies, Katherine wrote The Memory Artist. By engaging personally with the emotional truth of a history and using the ‘I’ perspective for her character, Katherine tapped into her creativity and found her writing voice. This headspace is the same dream-like imagination we enter as readers, but she used it to create.

Terry Jaensch, on the other hand, started writing poetry at an incredibly young age. From thirteen, he says writing for him was just vomiting up emotions. But it was a way for him to be visible to friends and teachers. 

Delving deeper into poetry made Tony realise that there’s a lot of posturing in it. But he didn’t want queerness in his poems to be veiled in any way. Poetry seems to measure the size of one’s intellect… He wanted his words to be plain and clear, with deeper meaning if you chose to dive in.

The last speaker, Lili Wilkinson, is the author of twelve books. Not only has she written a PhD on spaces for young adults online, she spoke about booktube, book twitter and bookstagram on the panel. My heart was SINGING. Fandom leads to activism, she said.

We, as young adults visiting school libraries, have carved out a space for ourselves online to get excited about books and engage in critical discussions.

‘YA is about seizing control, taking back power and trying to make the world a better place.’ – Lili

PANEL 2:
Into the Fire: Female Friendship Raked Over the Coals 

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From left to right (authors): Sonia Orchard, Clementine Ford. 

A panel on female friendship, motherhood, patriarchy and exploring why we betray our friends, our ideals, and ourselves. Women, Sonia and Clementine said, have two aspirations that are acceptable under the patriarchy: Motherhood and Beauty.

Neither of these attributes gives women direct access to power, power come via men and in competition with other women. By talking about this openly, we can acknowledge it, question it, change it.

‘The main goal of narcissism is to remain in control,’ says Sonia. ‘And it often does that by dividing and conquering.’

As Sonia was finalising edits for her book Into the Fire, that’s when the #MeToo movement kicked off. There were some alarming parallels.

She and Clementine discuss narcissistic personalities, how there’s a character like this in Sonia’s book, and how narcissism and patriarchy symbolically go hand in hand. This character symbolises patriarchy.

Sonia talked about the Geoffrey Rush case as an example, how it was post the #MeToo movement. Which is alarming in how patriarchy ruled this scenario. Eryn Jean Norville has powerful female friends but where were they? It was, Sonia says, in those women’s interests not to stand up for Eryn, to stand by power and remain silent.

‘Women will still stand by the patriarchy and listen to the male narrative.’

This session was so powerful . We strive and fight for equality and nuance; we need to break this power structure, open it up and stand by each other. Talking about it is the beginning.

Panel 3:
A Long Way From No-Go: Telling the Hard Truths

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From left to right: Stella Kinsella (festival director), Tjanara Goreng Goreng, Chrissie Foster.

‘Two compelling writers will engage in a very powerful discussion about abuse and the strength to survive.’

Tjanara discussed a few key times in her life when she was abused, and how she blew the whistle on these abusers years later. I can’t bring myself to write candidly about this session, even though I want to say how funny and raw Tjanara was about her life. Her tone was inviting but candid. The audience was silent and attentive.

She was sexually assaulted. Blew the whistle on paedophiles. Recognised that, in her head, that little instinct and voice that said kill yourself whenever she thought about approaching someone to tell them the truth… was not her own voice.

How do you sum up the insurmountable strength of a woman like this? She is incredible, a survivor, an activist. Her book A Long Way From No-Go ‘shines a light on the shameful treatment and betrayal of first Australians by individuals and social institutions since European take over.’

She’s had jobs from artist to academic researcher, has sought therapy for her trauma; she’s a brilliantly intellectual, calm, candid speaker. And she is generous. She didn’t leave us with the stories from her earlier life in our heads for when we walked out the door. She made us put our electronics down and she sang us a healing song. It is not our trauma, but hers, and she has learned to carry it and not burden us. The least we can do is support her, Aboriginal culture, and her story.

Panel 4:
Growing Up African in Australia

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From left to right: Ahmed Yussef, Khalid Warsame, Tariro Mavondo, Adut Wol Akec.

Growing Up African in Australia takes a look at the stories of African-diaspora Australians. Writer and journalist, Ahmed Yussef will walk us through the worlds of  Tariro Mavondo, Adut Wol Akec and Khalid Warsame and their unique perspective on the neighbourhood.

What do they think about the role of art?

Tariro says she is an artist because of the body she carries. As an actor and performing artist, she ensures agency and possession of her own story.

‘But on a bigger level, art creates better worlds. We can write the future.’ 

It’s easy, says Khalid, to get stuck in the past as a writer. We are so focussed on it. But we’re in a position now, of power. We can create the future, let’s live in the present.

‘Every artist is an artist because they have to be. It seems like I was born and now here I am.’ – Tariro

Their book Growing Up African In Australia is deemed ‘important’ and ‘necessary’ but is never specifically outlined as to why. Ahmed asks: What does this mean? 

Tariro says damn straight it’s necessary. TV is always the same, our media is always the same. We always know which character in a show will die and why [if they look like her]. We (the panelists, the artists) are here to change this path.

‘By not seeing ourselves [in media] we don’t feel like part of society. I’d write stories as a child with black protagonists. To see nothing like that in media… My doing it was an act of living, of asserting myself. We’re of just as much value as everyone else.’ – Khalid

Tariro says that the book, their writing, their art is necessary because it recentres people within her experience. She often hears ‘that was educational’ and is championing for language and public discourse to change and become more critical so we can share and understand experiences outside of our own. 

‘Everything I write is with an intense sense of responsibility for who I am.’ – Khalid

And that brilliant collection of panels, was WillyLitFest in the barest of nutshells. What a whirlwind of a day. ONE DAY.

Do you want to see the panelists talking? Click HERE for my video! I chatted about the day and shared snippets of each panel. ❤

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Honestly I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and creativity. Festivals leave me BUZZINGand WillyLitFest delivered. I was sent there by Melbourne City of Lit and couldn’t be more thankful. Absolutely KICKING MYSELF at not going before this year. I’ve been missing out on a gem of a festival.

Thank you so much to Williamstown Literary Festival, Melbourne City of Lit, and YOU for reading! Let me know if you’ve ever been to writing festival, I’d love to know and hear about your experiences too. ❤

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