Monday musings on Australian Literature: Australian Literary Festivals
I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a Monday Musings on Australia’s Literary Festivals but I have finally been spurred to do it after attending the Canberra Readers’ Festival last weekend. This is partly because I actually managed to attend a festival and partly because the last speaker was Australian literary doyen, Frank Moorhouse, who caught my attention with his statement that literary festivals are really a thing of the last 10-15 years.
Hmm, I thought, is that right? I’ve been aware of literary (and arts) festivals for way longer than that, and I recently read that the Brisbane Writers’ Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. However, I think his main point was that over the last decade or so they have started to make their presence felt. They are multiplying in number, and attendances are increasing significantly. Moorhouse said that last year over half a million people attended literary festivals in Australia and that this number had increased by 10% on the previous year. The Melbourne Writers’ Festival had around 50,000 attendees this year, and around 80,000 have been attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival . Wow!
Of course, as a librarian, I wanted to know the source of his information, so I went looking. I didn’t find all the figures I wanted, but I did find find some interesting things to share with you:
- there is an excellent website (which I have seen before) for Australian Literary Festivals, and they have an associated Facebook page. It’s not foolproof – our Canberra Readers’ Festival was not on it – but it’s a start. It has a calendar, which is always useful for holiday planning!
- bloggers (of course) blog about festivals they attend – which helps spread the word about how great they are (or can be) to attend. And some bloggers provide lists of festivals, such as writer Jason Nahrung, whom I discovered through the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.
- authors, at least some anyhow, like attending festivals*. Not only do they get to promote their books and engage with readers (through Q&A sessions and book-signings) but they get to meet and talk with other writers! Earlier this year Thomas Keneally said about going to a festival in the USA that “It will be particularly delightful to walk in the presence of other writers in the same streets and districts that formed Tennessee Williams’s sensibility.” Nick Earls has likewise commented on how the Brisbane Writers’ Festival aims “to unite local writers with those from abroad”.
- literary festivals are about as diverse as literature is itself. There are the big city festivals and the regional festivals (like the now well-known Byron Bay Writer’s Festival which started in 1997); there are festivals devoted to general literature and those that are genre-based; there are festivals which focus on big names and those which foster local writers; there are festivals designed specifically for children and young writers and those for poets; there are those – well, you get my drift. Check the links in my second dot-point above and you’ll see what I mean.
- literary festivals can rejuvenate dying country towns. Just look at Clunes for example. Who had heard of Clunes, Victoria, 5 years ago? Now every reader worth his/her salt will heard of Clunes and its annual weekend book and literary festival. It started 5 years ago specifically to revive the town and this year earned “a coveted international Booktown listing”. First-day attendance this year “smashed” previous attendances.
The value and role of these festivals is supported by the Federal Government’s major arts funding arm, the Australia Council which, in its Literature Sector Plan for 2012-2014, lists the following under its Sector Issues of Concerns:
The Literature Board welcomes the fact that each year more and more regional towns in Australia are establishing their own writers’ festivals. These, along with the major capital city festivals, form a vibrant infrastructure for Australian literature and provide increased opportunities for writers to earn performance fees and promote their work. However, within the limited financial resources available to the Literature Board, it is not possible to offer support to every applicant.
Ah, money … there’s the rub. Festivals, even small ones, aren’t cheap but they are “a good thing” – for the attendees (wh0, as Moorhouse said, demonstrate by their attendance, a hunger for ideas and discussion) and for the health of the arts and therefore society as a whole.
Do you like literary festivals? Why or why not? And, if so, I’d love to hear which ones you attend, and what makes a good festival for you.
* But they do, funnily enough, like to be treated well. I like this post from an English author on “how not to run a literary festival” from an Author’s point of view.