3, 3 and 3: Emily Mann, PWF program manager

This month’s 3, 3 and 3 guest is one of the busiest people in Perth right now.

Emily Mann (c) Scott Weir

Photograph © Scott Weir

Emily Mann is program manager of the Perth Writers Festival, which will be launched on 20 February, followed by a packed three-day program running through to 23 February. She has been hard at work since early 2013, developing a vibrant, exciting, thought-provoking program of writers with stories to tell and ideas to share. More than 100 local writers will be joined by some of the finest from elsewhere in Australia, among them Richard Flanagan, Anne Summers, Chris Womersley, Alexis Wright, Hannah Kent and Thomas Keneally. Overseas guests include Lionel Shriver,  Margaret Drabble, Martin Amis and this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, Eleanor Catton.

Emily worked at Sydney Writers’ Festival from 2008 to 2012, and she holds an MA Writing (Research) from the University of Technology, Sydney.

I’m thrilled that Emily was able to find time in her schedule to tell us about some of the things she loves.

3 things I love about what I do

1. The exposure to new books and authors
It goes without saying that I have a fantastic job for a booklover. It is a pleasure to read new works and to read beyond my usual tastes to find new and interesting authors and books. It is an even greater pleasure to be able to share new finds with others.

2. The audience
I enjoy watching people engage with writers’ festivals. I love to see friends sit down together and pore over a program, circling events and comparing their schedules. It is heartening to sit in audiences and see people deep in concentration or writing furiously in notebooks. There is nothing like the excited chatter of an audience coming out from a dark auditorium into the daylight after a major session. The audience lies at the heart of what we do.

3. The intensity of festival life
Working on literary festivals is quite unlike any other work cycle. Every month of the programming and planning process is another season, with the pressure building until the event. When the actual festival occurs it often feels like the eye of a hurricane passing over you. Then, once it has ended, the clean-up efforts begin and eventually you are back at square one, wondering if you could ever find the stamina to repeat the cycle. You always do.

3 places I’d like to visit or revisit

1. Paris
I once spent a hardscrabble year living in Paris about ten years ago. It was a brilliant, enervating and dramatic existence. I haven’t returned to Paris since, and I would like to return again soon—this time with money.

2. New Zealand
I am currently planning a trip to New Zealand following this festival. I would like to lose myself somewhere cool, green and damp for a while. I’ll be taking Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family and A Man in Love, both of which I have been holding off reading until I have an uninterrupted stretch of time available.

3. Sea
I love seagoing narratives, both fictional and factual. I am equally enamoured by Melville’s Moby Dick as I am by Junger’s The Perfect Storm, Shackleton’s South and Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki. I have often wondered what kind of hold these tales of man versus sea have over me. Perhaps it’s the overcoming of adversity, the testing of the self against the elements. I do wonder if I am an armchair adventurer: I guess I should take myself to sea to find out.

3 favourite festival experiences

1. My first writers’ festival event
My first experience of a writers’ festival remains one of my strongest memories. I snuck out of work one day and went down to Walsh Bay in Sydney to see a session in a very early Sydney Writers’ Festival. Michelle de Kretser was speaking on The Rose Grower. I took a seat in a crowded room and listened to a novelist talk at length about her work. She was not talking through a journalist or writing about her own work in a stylised and edited article. She was revealing her thoughts and experiences of writing a novel, live and unadulterated on a stage. It was exhilarating and I was hooked.

2. Shaking James Wood’s hand
I rarely ask for an autograph from authors; however, this year at a festival I had the opportunity to meet a man who is like a god to me: the critic James Wood. Not only did he sign my battered and dog-eared copy of How Fiction Works, he also shook my hand. I confess to being completely star-struck by authors whose work I have held on to closely over the years.

3. Freedom of speech
For me, a personal favourite festival experience is people exercising their right to freedom of speech. It could be an audience member querying a panellist, or two artists challenging one another in conversation. Opinions obviously differ and writers’ festivals are a democratic space where people can voice their opinions constructively, hopefully without lapsing into offence. I relish these moments because they actively demonstrate the importance and the need for writers’ festivals today, and show how keen people are to engage with the larger conversations about our lives.

Browse or download the Perth Writers Festival program and the list of authors here.

The festival program runs 20–23 February 2014,
on the grounds of UWA.



Filed under 3 3 and 3 (creative people)

21 responses to “3, 3 and 3: Emily Mann, PWF program manager

  1. marlish glorie

    Many thanks for this terrific post, Amanda. Where would we be without the Emily Mann’s of this world, the people with the passion and organizational skills to pull events like the writers festival, together? I was particularly struck, of all things, by the fact that Emily wanted to go lose herself somewhere cool, green and damp. It occurred to me that Europeans in their cold, cold winters often escape to warm climes, yet here in Perth with its blistering long summers we tend not to escape, it’s not seen as the “done thing” to escape a summer. Mmmm…new resolution….next summer, go lose myself in Alaska, in the ice and snow.

    • The thanks go to Emily, Marlish, but yes, I agree with you. Managing a festival is such a mammoth organisational feat but it’s also an act of creativity.
      And I am 100% with you, and Emily, on the cool, green and damp. I would like to excise summer from my year entirely!

      • Kia ora from the land of cool, green and damp (I’ll have to offer my services as a tour guide to Emily). After a Wellington summer that really has been those three things, I have to admit that a little sun and warmth seems appealing. The grass is always greener…
        Thanks Emily and Amanda for a lovely post – a glimpse behind all of the efficient and purposeful emails I’ve been getting from Emily! Can’t wait to get to Perth for PWF2014.

      • Kia ora, Tracy, and thanks. Well, if you like warmth, you’re coming to the right place; there’s plenty of it here and you’re welcome to my share of it! Hope to meet you at the festival 🙂

      • Really hope to meet you, too, Amanda (esp. as I’m reading “The Sinkings” at the moment, and *loving* it). Thanks but no thanks on the warmth-sharing front, though – my own share of Perth’s Feb heat will be more than enough to counteract the NZ cool!

      • So glad you’re enjoying The Sinkings, Tracy 🙂 Please bring some of that cool with you?

      • I’ll pack a chilly bin full of cool ; )

  2. annabelsmith

    What an interesting piece – great to hear what makes a writers festival director tick. It’s sweet to think that even festival directors get star-struck. I’m so looking forward to this year’s festival.

    • Guess we’re all starstruck sometimes! Lovely stories from Emily here. And I could well imagine that watching people poring over your program would be like seeing someone on a train reading your book! (Not that I’ve actually seen anyone doing that myself! 🙂 )

  3. Lovely post, Amanda. And your sessions for PWF sound great – I wish I could be there to see them. I’ve already suggested (through an audience poll on Facebook) to the Melbourne Writers Festival people that they include more WA writers. Would love to see you speak on this side of the continent, too.

  4. marlish glorie

    And, you hoo, Angela! We folk here in the West would love to see Amanda speak on your side of the continent, too. 🙂

  5. I love this series Amanda. Such a great way to get an insight into all the fabulous artistic people we have here in WA. Thank you!

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