The Melbourne Writers Festival is a two-week annual festival that is held in Melbourne, this year between 21-31 August. As a UNESCO City of Literature, it’s fascinating to see what the city’s flagship literary festival has to offer each year. Here, Festival Director, Lisa Dempster offers her thoughts on the festival’s relationship to diverse writers and audiences as a part of our ongoing blog series.
What does your festival see as the role of the arts in supporting (or otherwise) diverse representations of Australian culture?
The Arts play a key role in supporting the sharing and discussion of ideas, and in ensuring a diverse range of views are represented and heard. Every year, Melbourne Writers Festival brings tens of thousands of people together to hear, learn and talk about a wide range of issues. This year, over 400 authors, thinkers, musicians, experts and creative minds from across Australia and around the world will discuss and debate topics ranging from news and current affairs and international issues, to food, art, history and innovation.
Can you give us a brief overview of the festival and what it offers Asian Australian audiences in terms of programming?
Melbourne Writers Festival has something for everyone, with over 400 events to be held between 21 and 31 August this year.
The 2014 Festival features a number of streams, including:
- Local Luminaries – featuring new and established Australian authors, poets, publishers and readers
- World Literature – with writers from Africa, Asia, India, Europe and America, as well as Australia’s own international stars
- The Agenda – exploring topical issues in society, history and politics, including Russian politics, the Asian century and the history and legacy of WWI
- Food, Wine and Travel – exploring the world with visiting gastronomes and globetrotters
- Art, Design and Innovation – exploring a new modality of stories, from creation to sharing, and the gamut of visual expression from pop culture to fine art
- Music and Performance – including Shakespeare, rock’n’roll style, and a cabaret celebration of Dylan Thomas
This year’s Festival will include a number of events which focus on Asia, including four City to City events. These City to City events will look at Shanghai, Jakarta, Beijing and Singapore through the eyes of local writers.
A number of well-known Asian Australians will also speak at this year’s Festival, including editor of the anthology, Growing Up Asian in Australia, Alice Pung, and Benjamin Law, co-author of the light-hearted book, Sh*t Asian Mothers Say.
Why do you think that these offerings would be of interest to Asian Australian audiences?
Melbourne Writers Festival is committed to the sharing of ideas and discussion of ideas, and to bringing thought leaders and inspirational storytellers to Melbourne each year. All of the events in this year’s program are aimed at being informative, insightful and interesting and we hope will interest a wide range of audiences, including Asian Australian audiences.
Do you actively seek representation from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or other historically marginalised groups in your programming committees/board/staff/volunteer teams? Have you ever solicited or received feedback from CALD or other historically marginalised groups in terms of your festival?
As an organisation and as individuals, we are passionate advocates for the sharing of ideas – it’s what Melbourne Writers Festival is all about – so we certainly do work very hard to ensure all groups are represented, both in our program and in the team. In particular, we ensure a strong accessibility agenda at Festival events, including physical accessibility and an AUslan interpretation program for Auslan users, and within the MWF School’s Program, we have embarked on dedicated English As An Additional Lanugage (EAL) programming and have sought feedback from teachers on level of participation and responsiveness.