Sunday, 26 July 2015

Why, in the online age, we need writers' festivals

While I'm on the subject of blogs and blogging, you might want to check out some of Australia's writers' festival blogs and websites. The Australian government website is good starting place for locating the various festivals. Below is an extract from its introduction to literary festivals in Australia.

Writers' festivals

Reading is essentially solitary. Writing is essentially solitary. Though we connect with others far away through our reading and writing we tend not to meet them face to face. We are always one step away. Is this the reason why writers' festivals are so popular? They invite us to close that gap and meet in person.

Writers' festivals are very popular in Australia. In 1962 there was only one but by 2012 there were over 30 and they have steadily increased in size and scope. Sydney Writers' Festival is the third largest of its kind in the world. In 2007, it attracted audiences of more than 85,000 in over 330 events that took place all over the CBD, in Sydney's west and in a number of regional centres.

They are an amazing field of innovation, exploring new ways to connect with participants. New writers' festivals are constantly popping and each offers something a little different: a focus on Emerging Writers, an ethnic focus such as in the Antipodes Festival , a regional perspective.

As Jonathan Holloway, Artistic Director of the Perth International Arts Festival, said:

The increase in blogging and social media has also made writers festivals all the more important. At a time when it is possible for almost anyone in the Western world to be published and read on a daily basis, never before has it been so important to gather together to hear prose and poetry read aloud alongside radical and world-illuminating ideas.


 Serving different interests

One reason for the increasing numbers of successful literary festivals is that they serve the interests of many different people in one event. Readers can meet the authors they admire and discover new books and ideas. Writers can connect with colleagues, sell books, meet some of their readers and disseminate their ideas to a wider audience. For the media, literary festivals are a great source of content, extending the reach of the events much wider, for example through the ABC and Slow TV. Cities large and small benefit from the influx of visitors, the visibility and the sense of liveliness and community created. For publishers and booksellers, festivals bring promotional opportunities and books sales.

Past and future festivals


The first Australian literary festival was Adelaide Writers' Week, which originated in 1960 as part of the new Adelaide Arts Festival. It followed the model of the Cheltenham Literature Festival and itself became a model for festivals around the world. Gradually the other Australian states have developed their own writers' festivals, and many new regional literary festivals are appearing.
What unimaginable new shape will writers' festivals take as the present era of radical digital-induced change in publishing plays out? The changes that are in motion may be bigger than Gutenberg's, and we don't know where they're going, but writers' festivals offer a lively and personal front row seat.

What makes for a great experience at the festival?

The way the event is curated sets up conditions for the quality of debate, the chance to talk about ideas and issues that really matter. Good preparation and a high level of skill in the presenters and interviewers make an enormous difference to the experience.

But the coffee, wine and food matter a lot too, and the degree to which children and families are embraced by the event. The landscape and ambience count, as the Byron Bay and Noosa festivals know. While writers have contact with their readers through festivals, they also have contact with and recognition from each other. A festival may offer the chance to meet with colleagues from the ends of the earth. 

It all depends on what you are looking for, and there is plenty of choice.


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