Melbourne Writers Festival 2018 – Opening Night and other lovely things

The 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival began last Friday with an opening night party at the Melbourne Museum. Out with the staid format, this year’s Festival launched with poets, the amazing shOUT choir, rap and soul singers, and an address from Andrew W.K.

To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what to expect from Andrew W.K. His music is not my cup of tea and I wondered about his credentials as a motivational speaker (and whether that was MWF-worthy).

His message – simply ‘party hard’ – sounded a little flimsy…

“It’s very intense to be alive. I’ve been waiting for it to lighten up but it hasn’t… so let’s do it as a team. Partying.”

However, there was more to it – existential thoughts on the purpose of life combined with something meatier than ‘mindfulness’. You get glimpses of what he’s about in his Village Voice column. His enthusiasm was infectious and I came away weirdly converted… is he a cult leader?!

I’m saving the nitty-gritty of the sessions I attended for another post but there are a few lovely Festival details I want to share.

Firstly, Festival-goers sometimes need a little rest and time to read between excellent events. Thankfully the organisers have thought of everything and have provided lots of reading nooks.

Secondly, I saw the Scribe project on opening night and got talking to one of the scribes (about palliative care and biography writing, and the therapeutic value of being listened to). In fact, the scribe and I got along so well that it felt oddly serendipitous and we exchanged email addresses (the joy of festivals!).

When I arrived at my Saturday event a little early, I spied my scribe, so took the opportunity to record my thoughts about the Festival. Essentially, scribes record the experience of festival goers in what is a ‘democratic review’ of the event. It’s done on superb portable wooden desks and each response is catalogued and archived.

Again, watching others participate reminded me of how rare it is to have someone really, really listening hard to what you are saying, and the immense value of that listening. I think Scribe will be a memorable part of the Festival for all those that participated.

Lastly, some events are being held at a new venue this year – The Mission to Seafarers – and what an unexpected and fabulous place it is. Tucked behind the doors of the 1917 Arts & Crafts building is a chapel complete with a boat pulpit and sea-themed stained glass; a quiet, leafy courtyard; and a dome (didn’t get go into the dome but I’ll make it my mission this week!). Currently trying to find a reason to hold a function at Seafarers…

8 responses

  1. I don’t get to go to writers festivals so don’t know what to expect, but I imagine it’s a good thing for the organizers to mix it up a little. It sounds quite spread out, it’s the width of the cbd from the museum to the mission to seafarers. I look forward to attending all the most interesting events vicariously (I might be festivaled out after Canberra and Melbourne in such quick succession).

    • I reckon mixing it up is a good thing as well but others don’t agree… there was a scathing review of the MWF on the weekend, which included a poorly researched (because false) reference to a Melburnian ‘minority’ activist and writer – https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/aug/25/authors-doing-things-they-dont-normally-do-the-evolution-of-the-writers-festival

      Interestingly, I have a few friends and acquaintances who are attending the Festival for the first time this year, simply because there’s sessions that appeal (the shift of focus from ‘books’ to ‘writing’ has grabbed new audiences – at the cost of bookish types remains to be seen!).

      • Thanks Kate, I recommend Guy Rundle’s take if you can get past the Crikey paywall. He concludes: The dirty secret of an increasing number of readers is that for all their love of reading, they can’t wait until it’s late enough to be able to grab the remote and dive into Netflix, the state-of-the-art immersive narrative delivery system once provided by fat novels… (Aug.29)

      • I feel so bad, because I let my mother get rid of her historical old portable desk when she downsized 18 months ago. Our Jane Austen group was aghast and I suppose I really should have kept it, but I’d just come out of clearing out my late hoarder aunt’s house, and still have stuff as well from my late mother-in-law, that I just couldn’t face more stuff that I didn’t think I’d use. But still, I’m starting to regret it.

        Anyhow, good on the MWF for mixing it up a bit. I quite like the idea of focusing on writing and ideas, but I do want a goodly amount of “literature”. Our Canberra one had some great sessions but they do have, understandably, a focus on politics.

        Sounds like your festival is very spread out too?? It’s an issue here.

  2. Ha ha, Andrew WK! My husband has loved him since uni days, and only partially ironically 😉 For a while we had the song “It’s Time to Party” as our alarm and it was the most annoying thing ever.

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