The 2013 Melbourne Writers’ Festival ran from 22 August to 1 September, inviting writers, illustrators, poets and intellectuals from Australia and all around the world. This year’s festival motto was ‘Enquire Within’, and with a diverse range of topics covered, it certainly left festival attendees a lot to ponder over.
As the festival occurred during the federal elections, politics was all the talk. Big Ideas consisted of various thought-provoking sessions like Alan Missen Oration: Border Vigils, a commentary by border policy specialist Jeremy Harding. Together with Liberty Victoria, Harding assessed Australia’s position on asylum seekers in the global context. Harding noted that even though twenty-first century globalisation has led to a “borderless” world, nations have become more determined than ever to tighten border control – Australia being evidently guilty of this.
Another gripping Big Ideas discussion was given by writer Anne Summers in Feminism, Misogyny, Power. Summers tapped into Julia Gillard’s role in Australian politics and the media, primarily Gillard’s speech on calling out Tony Abbott’s misogyny and sexism. A firm sup- porter of Gillard, Summers was proud to have conducted Gillard’s very last interview as Prime Minister. With Gillard’s leadership now lost, Summer noted how the national media completely wiped Gillard off its pages. Hence, during the session, Summers successfully created an arena for lively discussion and riveting examination of Australia’s first female Prime Minister.
Speaking of girl power, Tavi’s World featured seventeen-year-old blogger extraordinaire and editor of Rookie magazine, Tavi Gevinson. Screaming teenage girls sporting floral crowns were a common sight dur- ing the evening, but that did not seem to faze Tavi at all. Smart, charm- ing, down-to-earth and, all-in-all, a pretty normal teenager, Tavi gave an entrancing talk about the merits of ‘fangirling’. Be it obsessing over Beyonce or JD Salinger, being a fangirl can be a tool of empowerment and self-identity, and that’s pretty rad. Tavi definitely proved herself to be a girl to watch.
Another remarkable international guest was Taiwanese-American writer Tao Lin who chewed over culture and heritage in Global Voices. Along with Australian writer Laura Jean McKay and Monash’s own Ali Alizadeh, the discussion covered how multiculturalism affects their own respective writings. The debate immediately picked up after Alizadeh’s declaration on the futility of the term ‘multiculturalism’, which Lin agreed with, while McKay kept an ambivalent stance. Lin was rather reserved throughout the session, but there was, surprisingly enough, a fair amount of fanboys cheering and laughing over Lin’s endearing aloofness.
A terrific session on words and text was A is for Aphorism, featuring composer Andrew Ford and philosopher and writer Damon Young. From modern Australian poetry to Nietzsche, both Ford and Young explored this linguistic playground and their appreciation for concise, astute observations. To Ford, music can be the perfect platform for aphorisms, but for writer and music historian Simon Reynolds, music is something else altogether. In Retromania, Reynolds deliberated over pop music’s addiction to its own past and whether this was destroying innovation and creativity. From Daft Punk to thrash metal, Reynolds highlighted how music’s constant struggle to sound both familiar and new is, unfortunately, killing its mojo. All these issues soon appeared minuscule compared to Fred Watson’s Guide to the Universe, in which astronomer Fred Watson wove an engaging story of man’s growing understanding of the universe. From astronomical observatories to black holes; the Large Hadron Col- lider to astrology jokes; galaxies light-years away to our neighbouring planet Mars, Watson displayed an infectious enthusiasm for space and science. Watson’s enthralling ideas and relentless passion could be seen in many other creative individuals throughout the festival.
The Melbourne Writers’ Festival was not only a celebration for literature, but also a highly engaging platform for readers, writers and thinkers.