Each year as we enter the last month of autumn and the weather, at least theoretically, turns crisp, we the bookworms and hoarders of the written word based in Sydney and surrounds, resurface.
We find ourselves unearthing our ridiculously snug knitwear, oversized novelty keep-cups and collection of reusable cloth bags emblazoned with sassy literary puns. And we emerge, bleary-eyed but determined, from the protective cocoons of our respective dwellings.
Why, I hear you ask, would we do such a thing? After all, the weather is getting cooler and FAR less conducive to being outdoors (except of course if you’re as pale as me and spent the better part of Australia’s sweltering summer months cowering indoors…) why not stay in, rugged up warm, tea in hand, and crack open one of those thousands of books we all know you have squirreled away.
Three words: Sydney Writers’ Festival.
This special annual event, affectionately and hashtagging-ly known as #SWF, welcomes wordsmiths from across the spectrum of genres, both Australia-based and from over various seas, to our fair city of Sydney. It is here that they discuss all things writing and we – the great unwashed – can absorb their collective brilliance in one dizzying bookgasm-filled weekend.
My enthusiasm for this year’s festival might be described as considerable, even all-consuming. I found myself running from one event to the next, never tiring of all that was on offer. From a fascinating panel to an equally intriguing one-on-one author talk to the live recordings of a lauded podcast and so on – the experience was stimulating, multi-faceted and so inspiring.
I wanted the whole festival to KNOW how irrevocably they had expanded my world, how full my heart was from it all. So I did what any rational human is compelled to do when they are grateful for the work of an inanimate institution – I wrote the festival a love note:
I hope this finds you putting your feet up and having several well-earned glasses of wine after a truly epic event! Yours has certainly been a year of upheaval – new venue, lots of program changes, and no small share of controversy. It can’t be easy curating and wrangling such a diverse range of events and people across multiple staging areas, but you handled it all with aplomb, and I wanted to take a minute to honour you for your most excellent 2018 program.
I’ve gotta say, I went to quite a few events (14 in total!) and each one was as intriguing as the next. I found myself wondering how it was that so many deeply different authors from across genres could hold my interest time and again.
One of the events that really stuck with me was “Glory Edim: Well-Read Black Girl.” I loved watching tech/business guru and podcast legend Aminatou Sow interview self-confessed well-read black girl Glory on her founding of a book club, turned festival, and essay collection of the same name.
The incredible rapport the two women was monumental. If you haven’t subscribed to Aminatou’s podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” yet, DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR; female friendship is beautiful and important!
The discussion was around Glory’s experiences of growing up black in the U.S., and the misconceptions around black women and reading. This fed into her quest to boost the voices of women of colour through platforms such as the book club, essay collection, festival – and, as it continues to grow, what is beginning to look like a “Well-Read Black Girl” movement.
In an age of constant information bombardment, where the news cycle is pretty bleak and can give a fairly one-dimensional view of people and places, it’s no wonder we choose to enter the world of books as an escape to different places, people and stories. In so doing, we also gain other perspectives. As my favourite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out in her excellent TED talk, the danger of a single story and the stereotypes that emerge as a result of only one voice from a given community being heard is not that they are untrue, but rather that they are incomplete.
“Many stories matter,” as Adichie puts it – and that is why the importance of events like these cannot be overstated.
The opportunity to hear from a diverse range of authors with vastly different life experiences expands our worlds and ultimately connects us, allowing empathy to blossom across geographical and cultural lines.
Later at the festival, I found myself waiting in line at a book signing for Alexis Okeowo’s brilliant book “A Moonless, Starless Night,” about ordinary people fighting extremism across Africa.
I looked up and saw Glory Edim standing off to the side, chatting with another young woman. After loitering for a while, I approached and was generously welcomed into the conversation between Glory and Sunny, a woman of colour, feminist and blogger in her own right.
Something that apparently did not escape any of us about the festival was the overwhelming homogeneity of the demographic in attendance.
It was an important reminder that while they do promote different voices, festivals like SWF continue in many ways to be privileged spaces insofar as the audiences that are able to access them are concerned. This is something that Sunny has unpacked further in a post on her blog “A Sunny Spot” – a blog that is itself a vehicle for her unique voice as a mixed-race young Australian woman.
In conclusion, dear festival, thank you for bringing together writers from so many different backgrounds and places. Hearing these varied voices can only promote greater understanding across divides and bring our world closer together.
See you next year…
I am endlessly grateful to WomanScape for giving me the opportunity to attend the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year.
Without the publication’s support I simply would not have been able to attend the many events, including an amazing workshop on writing literary non-fiction – which I plan to put to significant use. Thank you to Rose especially, for your belief in me.