It struck me as ironic that the opening night of the Emerging Writer’s Festival, which took place on Thursday 24 May 2012 at 7:30 pm and was entitled “Stories That Matter”, was held in the Treasury Theatre in the Department of Treasury and Finance. After all, the department is dedicated to the management of money, and the EWF is a festival for people who are, by and large, broke.
When Fiona McGregor, herself an established literary figure, took to the stage to deliver a writerly call to arms, she spared no illusion that great writing tends to end in a bountiful pay day. No, she cautioned, a writer will toil for little, and any reward will likely be disproportionate to the toil. And who can question that writing can be seen as a particular form of madness; self-imposed, solitary and demanding, fraught with the ever-present possibility that nothing written is any good, and even if it is, it may be that no one will ever read it.
The gala opening was a celebration of words and the people who write them.
McGregor then asked ‘why write?’ But of course the answer is so self-evident that the question was merely a rhetorical device to rouse the listeners’ passions. Not only will there always be a need for great poets, novelists, journalists, spoken word artists, story tellers and everyone else, but also because the real pay day for writers is when, as Fiona McGregor eloquently put it, ”we hear music in our sentences”.
The gala opening was a celebration of words and the people who write them. From the moment our host, the hilarious Tessa Shaw, declared how happy she was to be in the creative placenta of Melbourne and urged us to use the festival to suckle on the teat of the industry, it was obvious the EWF does not take itself too seriously.
Ruby J Murray spoke of the tragedy of linguicide, the cultural handmaiden of genocide, of the vast majority of Indigenous languages in Australia, and the paucity of rich expression that is left. The Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages works to prevent Aboriginal language loss.
Spoken word artist Omar Musa … reminded us of the beauty to be found in the world, if only we know how to look.
From Ruby’s celebration of words, the night moved towards the people who write them. Lisa Dempster, the departing Director of EWF, was recognised for her dedication and passion, followed by the awarding of the lucrative Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing to Michelle Li (runner up) and Tully Hansen (first place).
Two comedians punctuated the evening; Anne Edmonds, who managed to work in the line ‘get out of my arse’ and Nazeem Hussain, who ridiculed religious intolerance. Spoken word artist Omar Musa capped it off with his lyrical rebuff to the vacuous and unprincipled desires of our generation, and reminded us of the beauty to be found in the world, if only we know how to look.
The EWF is a festival for writers, by writers, who share a rich social conscience and sense of purpose in their craft.
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