Word for Word Non-Fiction Festival – Dani Leever

Attending the Word for Word non-fiction literary festival was an eye-opening delight. Panels packed full of brilliant brains, a whole network of non-fic nerds, all within a brilliant cultural centre in Geelong.

To capture and creatively reflect on the festival, I’ve created a collection of digital collages directly responding to some of the quotes that stood out throughout the day. Each collage represents how I’ve reflected upon and interpreted some of my favourite things I heard in the Word for Word discussions. These quotes stood out to me for their creative, important or fascinating approach to creating non-fiction. Below each collage you will see the quote or quotes I’ve responded to.

Open your eyes.

From the Growing Up Queer panel

A lot of us didn’t see stories of ourselves growing up. I didn’t see stories or representations of growing up queer and/or Asian. Like, I had the H Volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica out with the ‘homosexual’ entry – I had that. And SBS. Which was a bit better.” – Benjamin Law

I had no role models or representations of queerness where I grew up – I’d never met a queer person, there were no queer YA books in the library. Grappling the idea of not being straight when there’s nobody around to understand – that’s what I want to convey.” – Justine Hyde

For us as Australian queer people, we’re understandably frustrated about how slow can change. We haven’t gotten rid of transphobia, biphobia and homophobia. But I you step back and have a look, we’re part of a pretty tumultuous and radical revolution. Even when I was growing up and homosexuality was criminalised in Queensland, so there is cause of optimism.” – Benjamin Law

From the Real Funny panel

“A working theory that I carry in my brain is that people laugh for three reasons, this is based on a particular book I’ve forgotten, but people write about this stuff. The three reasons I think people laugh for:

  1. Surprise. So when we’re surprised, it’s like a puzzle, so the example, “I like rice, rice is great if you’re hungry and you want to eat 2000 of something – so a surprise.
  2. Superiority – like ‘your mama’s so fat’, when you’re sort of punching down. Right, when you’re mocking or humiliating. Which is not very nice, but we laugh! We laugh when people are made fun of because we’re cruel. We’re capable of divinity and love but we love to rub people’s noses in it sometimes.
  3. The other one is – and this is the one that appeals to me – a release of tension. They’re the kind of laughs when your mum is walking out the kitchen on Christmas day with a bottle of wine and she slips over, and you think she’s going to die, and then she’s okay and you laugh, because there’s all this tension. And I think there’s tension around social issues, like anything that’s a hot button issue. When you joke about it, you’re releasing social tension and I think that’s one of comedy’s – in particular stand up comedy – highest and noblest functions – to be a release valve.

From the We Are Here panel

I’ve taught writing workshops at maximum security prisons, and every person I worked with said that having written down how they felt about what was happening, even just that day, everything felt a little bit less overwhelming just by writing something down.” – Claire G Coleman

Stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories about our lives help us make sense of our lives. That was an outcome I didn’t aim for with this project, but I learnt about the therapeutic power of telling stories.” – Meg Mundell

We forget the emotional catharsis of telling a story – a story has less power over of you once you share it with someone else, even if that someone just a piece of paper.” – Claire G Coleman

A sentiment repeated on multiple panels

Often women are up against it, and within that I didn’t want this to be a read that people, you know, are feeling despairing at the end of it I suppose. In some ways, I wanted to write the book I would have liked to read when I was a teenager wanting.” – Joanne Brookfield on the Real Funny panel

“The reason I wrote my story is because I would have loved to read this story growing up.” – Justine Hyde on the Growing Up Queer panel

 “I really thought, ‘the world needs this book.” – Meg Mundell on the We Are Here panel.

From the Real Funny panel

Stand up comedy is not a respected art form. I feel like we’re just above xylophone players. Or triangle players. They don’t put other art forms in front of drunk truckies on a half price Tuesday… but I really do love the art form.” – Corey White

Not everybody’s comedy is going to work for everyone in the audience, but part of getting good is starting shit. But the hard part is it’s so public and you don’t know if a joke’s funny until you’re on stage and you’ve got 100 eyes on you.” – Joanne Brookfield

From the We Are Here panel

You shouldn’t really do things out of anger, but part of the reason for the project is that I get really angry when I encounter nonsense assumptions and people writing people [experiencing homelessness] off, like they’ve got nothing to offer. It was like a ‘we’ll show you’ moment.” – Meg Mundell

“It’s funny you say you shouldn’t do things from anger, because my entire writing career is writing from anger. Like, that’s my platform! I write from anger, and get paid for it!” – Claire G Coleman

*laughs* “Yeah, me too! Anger gets a bad rap, but I think I’m on that too.Meg Mundell

From the Growing Up Queer panel

I love how the book came out with study guides. It’s so cool to have the book go into schools and libraries but it’s so funny thinking of people being asked ‘what did Justine mean in this?’ Like.. I don’t even know what I mean.” – Justine Hyde

The queer lens by definition is going to reframe stories – we don’t think of a cisgender or heterosexual lens, but it totally is! But not everyone thinks of that because heterosexual is so visible, but queerness gives us another way to tell stories and interrogate how the story can be told.”  – Benjamin Law

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