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‘Good ideas come from everywhere’: Writers Festival's 2021 vision


The Brisbane Writers Festival learned a lesson or two in 2020, bringing in a slew of changes ahead of this year’s festival on May 7 including new artistic direction, year-long programming, and a permanent hybrid festival which gives bookworms the opportunity to stream in from their living rooms.

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The changes involve a focus on community, accessibility, and diversity, in time for the 59th iteration of one of Queensland’s oldest festivals.

The Chief Executive of BWF, Sarah Runcie, told InQueensland the festival will see a permanent move to a hybrid programme, expanded programming with events held year-round outside of the main festival, a focus on First Nations’ voices, and the scrapping of an individual artistic director to engage a series of curators.

Runcie said the new direction is to ensure the festival becomes one “for writers and of writers” and represents the diversity of the literary landscape across Queensland.

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) runs from May 7 – 9 with over 100 events, free and ticketed, with 40 events streaming online to viewers around the state and beyond.

This year’s program begins with First Word, a new, permanent event which sees an Indigenous artist delivering the first and last word of the festival. This year, acclaimed Mununjali author Ellen van Neerven will deliver the First Word and Last Word address.

“Initiating first word and last word is to recognise First Nations people as our first storytellers. It’s about embedding a First Nations perspective into the programme as a whole to give context to where writing and storytelling emerged from,” said Runcie.

There will be a series of special events including the Marion Taylor Opening Night Gala hosted by Robert Dessaix, the Mother’s Day High Tea with Kate Mortonthe All I Have is a Voice poetry showcase which will see performances by established and emerging poets and performers, and a screening of the film 2040 with director Damon Gameau.

Darkness is Golden is a guided ‘death meditation’ with leading psychologist Mary Hoang who will guide participants through their own death and that of a loved one, the Closing Address will be led by journalist Christine Jackman who evaluates the benefits of introspection, with the Last Word given by van Neerven.

Bruce Pascoe, author of Dark Emu, is speaking at The World’s Biggest Survival Story event – using insights from First Nations people into surviving an uncertain future. (Image: supplied)

Runcie said that the diversity of perspectives and representation of Brisbane as a community of huge variety was a driver for the festival this year.

“A writer’s festival is part of the the public intellectual life of the city and community. It’s a subtle cultural institution as the topics are words and stories which means we can tackle almost anything. There’s the opportunity to have BWF reflect the diversity of interests that represents the audiences here in Brisbane,” she told InQueensland.

“It’s a really important driver, which is why we have moved from having an individual artistic director to actually engaging curators who are embedded in the audiences we are seeking to reach.”

The festival contains a number of events by renowned authors and writers, including Charlotte Wood author of The Weekend, Trent Dalton with his new novel All Our Shimmering Skies, and comedians Matt Okine and Jean Kittson who will discuss their books Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips and We Need to Talk about Mum and Dad.

Other events include a series curated by Brisbane writer Benjamin Law on the theme of knowledge sharing and survival, as well as perspectives on climate change via events with the author of Fire Country Victor Steffensen and the author of The Climate Cure, Tim Flannery.

Runcie said that the festival is focussed on representing and engaging the community of Brisbane and Queensland more widely. As a result, accessibility is a key feature of the festival via hybrid programming for regional communities and events which are free or low cost.

“We have done this deliberately over a number of years to make our festival accessible to communities who are part of the presented voices in the programme,” she said.

The festival’s LoveYA programme is a full day of free programming, in person and live streamed, which aims to encourage young people to engage in writing.

“The online version has proved to be a boon for the festival as we can expand our offering beyond a Brisbane audience but also to highlight the remarkable writing talent that we have in our backyard,” said Runcie.

“Over time I really want to build towards a Brisbane Writers Festival that allows people to engage in spoken and written word, is vibrant and culturally nuanced, and extends throughout a calendar year.”

The Brisbane Writers Festival runs from May 7 – 9, for more information about events and programming visit the Brisbane Writers Festival website.

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