Saturday, 14 April 2007

Wendy Were says "I want people to argue" as a result of attending the Sydney Writers' Festival. "I want people to be actively stirred by what they witness."

As to Were's claim in yesterday's The Sydney Morning Herald that the festival "was edging into the top three" literary festivals worldwide, Rosemary Neill at rival broadsheet The Australian asserts that the Adelaide Writers Week was "the country's most popular writers festival despite Sydney's claim that it ranks among the world's top three literary festivals (alongside Edinburgh and Hay-on-Wye) in terms of size".

Neill's article, written for a national paper, is also more wide-ranging than the SMH piece (which, oddly, has no by-line although it is an interview). In addition to Were, she talks to Rosemary Cameron (Melbourne Writers Festival), Rose Wight (Adelaide Writers Week), and Michael Campbell (Brisbane Writers Festival).

The SMH piece suggests that because Were is from Western Australia, "There is a strong contingent of writers from China (or who have written about China)". The west, where mining is king, has possibly greater exposure to Chinese influence.

Certainly, the Chinese contingent this year looks pretty impressive. I mentioned yesterday that the poet Bei Dao, "a nominee on several occasions for the Nobel Prize", would attend. Also coming is Eliot Weinberger, who writes about China, China analyst Will Hutton, novelist Diane Wei Liang, poet and founder of Chinese PEN Bei Ling, publisher Helen Liu, and the journalist and writer Xinran Xue.

The interviewer says that "the Sydney festival draws a much younger audience than others around the country". Neill brings up the stereotype of festival-goers as "middle class, middle-aged woman with time on her hands".

Wight finds this view disparaging: "It seems to be some sort of derogatory thing, but what can you do if men won't buy books or go to literary festivals? Middle-aged women buy the majority of books, that is what the statistics show, so that is reflected at literary festivals." She adds that since she started running Adelaide Writers Week in 1994, the number of men has increased to about 20 per cent of the audience.

Were stresses that Sydney's catchment is broader than the stereotype suggests. "At the Sydney Writers Festival one of the things that is obvious is that there are a lot more men and a lot more young people."

There is no coverage of the Sydney Writers' Festival yet in The Age (Melbourne), The Advertiser (Adelaide), The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), The West Australian (Perth), or the Mercury (Hobart).

Full details of free and ticketed events are now available on the festival's Web site.

The opening session (6.30pm on 30 May) features Andrew O'Hagan, who Were calls "an extraordinarily charismatic man", and is titled 'The Power of Literature: The News that Stays News'.

'Pico Iyer in conversation' is on at 3.30pm on 2 June. The travel writer talks with Caroline Baum.

'Lionel Shriver in conversation' is on at 7pm on 2 June. Again, with Caroline Baum.

'Media Machinations' at 9.30am on 3 June features Will Hutton ("the most influential voice on work, workplace and employment issues in Britain"), Peter Hartcher ("political and international editor for the SMH"), Chris Masters (author of Jonestown), Margaret Simons ("an award winning freelance journalist"), and Michael Young ("a freelance media consultant").

'The Art of the Essay' should be interesting. It's on at 3.30pm on 3 June and features Inga Clendinnen (historian, anthropologist and academic), Eliot Weinberger ("the major translator of Octavio Paz, the author of a study of Chinese poetry translation, and the editor of The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry"), Daniel Mendelsohn, and Elaine Lindsay ("the literature and history program manager at ArtsNSW").

'Behind the Media Headlines' at 1.30pm on 31 May features Leigh Sales ("the ABC's national security correspondent"), Caroline Overington (a prolific and high-profile journalist), and Louis Nowra ("his latest book is Bad Dreaming").

'The Writer's Reader' asks "How crucial is the art of storytelling to journalism and nonfiction? From news features to investigations, memoir to travel writing, what makes standout pieces of journalism and non-fiction effective, memorable and enduring?". On at 4.30pm on 31 May it features Pico Iyer, Malcolm Knox ("widely published journalist and a former literary editor for the SMH"), Ashley Hay ("author of three books of non-fiction as well as essays, short stories and journalism"), and Mark Mordue ("a writer, journalist and editor").

'The Everyday and the Prosaic' on at 10am on 1 June will feature Cate Kennedy (author of Dark Roots), and Danielle Wood (author of two books).

'Never the Twain: religion and politics' on at 10.30am on 1 June features Tamas Pataki ("has published widely on the philosophy of mind, psychoanalysis, moral philosophy and aesthetics"), Frank Brennan ("a Jesuit priest and lawyer"), and Michel Onfray ("an established and charismatic French public intellectual").

'The Art of the Editor' is on at 12 noon on 1 June. It features Elik Lettinga ("editor-in-chief at Arbeiderspers"), Fergus Barrowman ("publisher of [New Zealand's] Victoria University Press"), Philip Gwyn Jones ("co-founder and publisher of Portobello Books"), and Jane Palfreyman ("a publisher at Allen & Unwin").

'Books in the Digital Age' on at 5pm on 1 June features Matt Rubinstein ("runner-up for the 2001 Australian/Vogel Award for his novel Vellum"), Michael Fraser ("a copyright lawyer and chief executive officer of CAL and vice-president of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations"), and Sherman Young ("a senior lecturer at Macquarie University's Department of Media").

'Poetry from Around the World I' on at 9.30am on 2 June will feature Bei Dao and David Malouf.

'Best Australian Stories' on at 10am on 2 June is a beauty. It features Frank Moorhouse, Robert Drewe, and Cate Kennedy.

'Talking 'bout my generation' on at 3pm on 2 June features Kate Crawford ("a Sydney-based academic, commentator, journalist, and author"), Tom Dawkins ("the founder and national coordinator of non-profit youth media and arts organisation, Vibewire"), and Barry Jones ("one of Australia's best-loved politicians").

'Writers Festivals around the World: Behind the Scenes' on at 9.30am on 3 June features Wendy Were, Janet de Neefe ("founder and director of the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival"), and Nury Vittachi ("a well-known TV and newspaper journalist in Asia, a Feng-Shui expert, and author").

'Tribute to Anna Politkovskaya' is on at 11am on 3 June. It features Toby Eady ("managing director of Toby Eady Associates, a UK literary agency"), Ludmila Stern ("a senior lecturer and coordinator of Russian Studies at UNSW"), and Katherine Thomson.

'Are we neglecting Australian Literature?' is on at 1.30pm on 3 June. It features Rosemary Neill ("an award-winning journalist who currently writes for The Australian"), Nicholas Jose ("author of seven novels"), Josie Emery ("director of literature at the Australia Council for the Arts"), Ivor Indyk ("founding editor and publisher of HEAT magazine and Giramondo books"), and Brian Johns ("chairman of Copyright Agency Limited and has worked as a journalist writing on politics and the arts").

This is just a short summary of the items that immediately appealed to me. There is heaps more great stuff on offer. Check out the site.

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