Interview by Olivia De Zilva
I wrap up and tell truths about 2019’s Adelaide Writers’ Week with Director Jo Dyer (and On Dit Alumni) who speaks about her highlights and hopes for the future.
“…I think that the festival has gone well thus far…We’ve been thrilled with the audience numbers and the way people have responded to the various books and issues that have been raised by our writers and panels…” Dyer says with a quiet glee.
Despite the hot weather, droves of Adelaide’s enthusiastic literati have flocked the Pioneer’s Women Garden to hear the likes of Leigh Sales and Morris Gleitzman tell truths from their fictional, non-fictional and political standpoints.
“The readers this year were very committed to our writers. I think that they really wanted to hear these different stories from different parts of the world and experiences. This year has really risen to the challenge of the true-story, bringing so many different writers and panellists together to discuss the events or stories that have shaped their work.”
Unlike directors of the past, Dyer has been devoted to bringing these stories to a wider audience. Her intention with this is to “set up conversations between authors and put them together on more lateral and diverse panels”. Dyer has stated that this provocation of ideas and ideas is an urgent discussion to have in our current social and political climate:
“I’ve always been interested in contemporary issues and big ideas, so to curate these conversations between authors, panellists and audiences is something I find to be important. For example, putting together a memoirist, fiction author and historian on a panel and then hearing them address the same issues from different perspectives is something extraordinary and not really heard of. That’s the aim I always had with telling truths: to encapsulate that everyone comes from different standpoints and perspectives but can still have a productive discussion with an open and willing mind”
Organising Writers’ Week in the midst of Mad March has been somewhat of a challenge for Dyer due to the competitive nature of the festival circuit. However, she has been sure to delineate Writers’ Week from the craziness of Fringe and The Adelaide Festival.
“…Writers’ Week is different from The Fringe and Adelaide Festival because it’s entirely curated with invitation only panellists who we think are capturing the zeitgeist and responding to the bigger issues of the world. We’d call it a ‘Boutique Festival’ because it’s only on for 6 days and held across two main stages. Unlike bigger Writers’ Festivals in Sydney or Perth, the Adelaide event is very confined and more accessible for people to find out what is going on. Uniquely, all the events are free, so audiences have equal access to authors and experience more throughout the day. There’s a sense of discovery Adelaide enables which is very handy for our audiences to engage and enjoy…”
When discussing the diversity of Writers’ Week, it’s hard not to mention the Hear Me Roar! Poetry and Performance event which was held on the ABC Stage on March 3rd. Featuring a line-up of unique voices including Solli Raphael, Laniyuk, Joelle Taylor and Audrey Mason-Hyde, the performance broke the conventional mould of a “writers’ festival” with its intimate and performative set-up.
“…Hear Me Roar was something that we were keen to introduce. Although we have a very devoted audience, we wanted to stretch the boundaries and curate something for our younger and more contemporary visitors. In the past, we have had dedicated literature written from Young Adult readers, but there was not a previously dedicated spoken word aspect. We added this to the program because Australia has seen a such a massive growth in spoken word poetry. It’s a powerful way for young people to express themselves as well as a creative and literary outlet for art to presented. We needed to give a platform for dynamic and urgent voices and Hear Me Roar was the best way to do so…”
A discussion brought up at Hear Me Roar was to change the name of the Pioneers Women’s Garden because of its connotations with colonial Australia’s invasion of the lands of our First Nations People. Many of the poets expressed their discomfort about performing on this land and questioned whether Writers’ Week should be held in a new location.
“It’s an interesting discussion between writers and non-writers” Dyer states. “The women behind this garden also have a history they want to share and of course, a conflict will arise between our First People about the appropriateness of the space. We think that this is an ongoing discussion we need to have with the council because the event has always been held here in the past. We need to invite all members of the community to have this discussion and come to a respectful conclusion. Australia has an extremely complex shared history and the only way we acknowledge it is to speak our truths together”
Dyer is optimistic for the next Writers’ Festival in 2020, saying that this year has allowed her some “reflection and pursuit for authors that would be perfect for next year’s line-up”. When I ask about her dream panel, she says that there are “just so many people that I would love to come, but they’re scattered in different locations around the world”. But there is one author who she would invite, no matter what the costs:
“Oh yes, Margaret Atwood — she’d be good!”
Adelaide Writers’ Week is a yearly event in March which celebrates the diverse voices of writers both in Australia and internationally.