Stories, voices and the ritual of the literary festival.

It strikes me that the Literary festival, has become a sort of modern stadium to gather with others and experience a quasi religious ritual. The urge to attend speakers events, artist talks and listen to thought leaders exposing the revelations they had when writing their novels, memoirs, essays and beyond— is palpable.

It is evident that the literary festival— much like community gatherings, music and even the simple act of face-to-face communication— has the profound ability to bring us into contact with our senses and emotions to build connection, understanding and empathy. 

The writer is the modern day Rock Star, and audiences are begging to be enlightened, enriched and engaged by some of the brightest minds in the world. The writer serves a very important function in a society. A vessel and mouthpiece to expose both the conscious and unconscious urges of a society’s libido. 

Our urge to tell stories is timeless and spaceless. Storytelling is one of the few actions that can cut across all of our differences. We will tell stories until the end, until our vocal chords fray from the friction of our voices, until are bones lay down to sleep, until our fingers can no longer translate the fictions and fantasies of our minds. The human entity is so profound that we can tell stories with the minutest actions. A facial twitch or a tear. To the grandest of gestures, like a magnum opus of literary genius or the profound architecture of a building. 

The universality of storytelling strikes me as having a way of transcending the barriers between humans that can become washed by the tides of everyday reality. The muses of storytelling guide us to evolve. Sometimes with gentle nudges, sometimes with startling bolts of creative lightening. The fortitude, passion and sheer desperation of individuals to tell stories, is a gauge of freedom in a society and the appreciation of it, exalts us. 

In books particularly, magic can exist. Disbelief is suspended and humans are reminded that they have bodies, which react to emotional and intellectual stimuli in a physical way. We sit, waiting, fidgeting, trying to abandon thoughts of our hard day at work, our difficult relationships, our money woes; and we put our faith in the storyteller, to take us on a journey that our unconscious drive is hoping will reveal something to us.

The far reaching global research, which unveils the decline in reading, creativity and communication— especially among children, is to the detriment of learning how to engage in periods of thoughtfulness, sensitive observation of people. With this, we slowly untether ourselves from the ability to pick up on tone, metaphor, symbol and abstract human thoughts and behaviour. 

When we leave children to play, their imaginations run wild. They use objects and speech and movement to create stories. Storytelling is innate, inborn, unprompted and an unstoppable reflex— a part of our cell DNA. It is clear why story comes from the word historia. It is an ancient communication tool to document, unveil and contend with our collective pasts, and also a human action  that we have been elevating since the very beginnings of consciousness.

As children actively invent their own scenarios in play, they work their way through the challenges and gain confidence and a sense of mastery. What I am referring to here is the importance of active communication, the necessity of arts, culture and imagination in each other’s lives and the prime importance of this kind of communication and creative expression. 

By reading books, I am thrust into a state of being that involves my instinct, intellect an intuition. The three necessary elements of accessing the spherical nature of my own capability to feel and understand the world around me.

When I listen to people tell stories, it creates a bridge between experiences, it fuels a feedback loop between us and creates unity and community.

IN AUGUST I TOOK A TRIP TO THE BENDIGO WRITERS FESTIVAL…

I was excited at the prospect of a full day of nothing but observation, listening and watching writers bear their souls to hungry audiences. The objective was to engage with the greater city and grapple with the intentions and necessities of regional literary festivals. The question being, just how important are our regional festivals within the shiny discotheque of our Melbourne literary scene?

The answer, as I’m sure you would have guessed, is VERY.

I tumbled through spaces, events, speeches, debates and questions and by the end of the day, wove myself a large tapestry of ideas so vast, yet so simple. ‘No-one, no matter who they are, is without a story, and further more, it is by sharing and gifting one another with these stories, that gives our experiences meaning.

I imagine, as I sit in the auditoriums, listening to the likes of Meshel Laurie, Benjamin Law, Tishani Doshi, clementine ford, Alice pung, Randa Abdel-Fattah, lee Kofman, anna Snoekstra, Karen viggers, Bri Lee and many more; that every time they prepare themselves to write, they ask themselves, how might i use this story as an act of revolution?

It is one thing to believe that story is as important to understanding the world as science or economics are. It’s another altogether to make the work with that revolutionary energy. Scientific breakthroughs happen when scientists have the courage to challenge accepted norms. The ever-emerging discoveries of quantum physics demand the next generation to go further, to think deeper. To challenge wider.

This type of daring and rigour was what I felt as I immersed myself in the resonant voices of many writers and speakers dissecting topics such as the access to medicine in indigenous communities, the ghettoisation of social classes, the access to arts, the key to creativity, the pleasure, the grief and the sadness. The search for identity, the modern heroes journey, the queerness, the darkness and the lightness. The Earth’s pain and the human pain. The hidden terrain of domestic abuse, the myriad ghosts of the past, resurrecting to tell the untold truths of our country…

I sunk into conversations about our youth, about mental health and the infection of apathy and nihilism amongst over medicated communities.  

It is these rockstar writers who function to fuel our contemplation about these timeless topics. It is them to who we look for the way through.

The writers of a society, are like cartographers who map our hidden terrains and forests without feeling embarrassed or nervous, or scared of getting lost or being ostracised, of being misunderstood, misread, overlooked. A writer is bold, an artist who refuses to shape their practice according to unspoken moulds and comfort zones. 

I believe the writer’s role, is to respond to and interpret the times. To be the historian, to be awake, conscious and acutely aware of cultural implication. This takes bravery, empathy, interrogation, curiosity and craft. This takes work. Work of complexity and nuance; evolving through time, refracted through our social and personal encounters with the world, and moulded by faith in the landscape of which we are all a part.

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