Melbourne Writers Festival 2016 Review: The Best & Worst of Literary Culture

Melbourne Writers Festival 2016 Review: The Best & Worst of Literary Culture

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since the Melbourne Writers Festival 2015. As a writer, I can look back on a year of growth and connection since last September, and it was #MWF15 that inspired large parts of my journey.

This year’s festival featured dozens of outstanding writers, and it was fantastic to once again join the massive line snaking its way into The Edge theatre at Federation Square. I attended about ten sessions in total, including a marathon day 12 hour day on the first Sunday. Throughout the festival, session after session flew by, each with quotes and lessons I could take away; John Freeman talking about reading widely to create a ‘muscle memory’ for good sentences and editors not sanding off the rough edges of a writers’ manuscript, because that’s what gives writing its voice and makes it sing.

In the shorter sessions, I found myself struggling to narrow down my options. I enjoyed the robust discussion of diversity in fiction, and found the Publishing Now session to be insightful, highlighting the diversity in publishers’ attitudes towards embracing new media and at times preferring traditional press like reviews in The Age’s Good Weekend. The publishing world is still an industry in transition with the arrival of the ebook age, and it was lovely to hear the dialogue in motion; it was an enthralling debate which captured my attention – it was the best of literary culture on display.

And speaking of the best of literary culture, some examples that come to mind from the festival were Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan sitting in The Edge, riffing off one another’s stories during a joint reading and responding to audience questions like “Do you like hurting people?” with grace and humour. I also think of John Freeman during his workshop on editing, which was packed with the philosophy of editing. It’d be easy for an editor from New York to be pompous and preening in his approach, but John listened and made his knowledge accessible and digestible. In short, his session was glorious.

But that’s the thing about literary culture; it’s a matter of accessibility to the general public. Literary culture is at its worst when authors indulge in self-congratulatory waffle, and talk about writing with a level of pretension that makes the audience feel dumb for not having read the complete lexicon of classics, both old and new. Awards and achievements are all well and good, but authors need to remember that connection with readers is what keeps them in a job. You can’t ignore your audience forever; eventually, you need to show them who you are. And I think readers, no matter their intellect or background, can sense authenticity in an author’s intent. Only one session strayed into this realm in my experience, and thankfully it was a blip on the radar of a fantastic festival.

And how can you not love reading and books and writing when you’re surrounded by hundreds of young people eager to meet their favourite authors? This year’s Melbourne Writers Festival was a success, and if anything the blips are a plus, because they provide room to improve; just like a manuscript – it’ll never be perfect, but this year certainly felt like the best MWF yet.

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