I saw a comment on Facebook recently that made me think. A writer was bemoaning the lack, in this year’s Perth Literature and Ideas Festival program, of sessions bringing authors together to discuss particular topics, in favour of sessions where authors were just discussing their books. I have, of course, no problem with this writer expressing their opinion; it just prompted some thought about what writers festivals mean to me.
I’ve certainly enjoyed many of the issues-based panels I’ve attended over many years of festival-going, but I have to confess that those I’m most drawn to are one-on-one author interviews, or panels of two or three authors, usually loosely connected, talking about their books. Issues and ideas, as well as aspects of writing and publishing, fall very naturally into sessions like these, and it’s not often that I come away without feeling I’ve learned something.
I was dismayed a few years ago when I scoured the program of a highly regarded writers festival and struggled to find a single session in which an author talked about a book. I know that festival directors have a formidable task in trying to satisfy competing interests, wanting to honour their traditional audiences, needing to grow their audience base and especially to attract younger members. But the core elements of a writers festival are surely books and authors, and I applaud the directors who put these elements front and centre while finding interesting ways to present them.
Since Covid rushed in and took over our lives, hats off to every festival director in the country for navigating their way around restrictions and uncertainty and new technologies to keep their festivals alive. And congratulations in particular to Sisonke Msimang, director of this weekend’s Perth festival.
Due to other commitments, I’ll only be attending two live sessions, as well as two ‘watch-at-homes’, and look forward to the opportunity to listen to Susan Midalia, Josephine Taylor, Lucy Peach, Bron Bateman, Julia Gillard, Britt Bennett, Donna Mazza and Laura Jean McKay. If you‘re going, I wish you a happy and fulfilling weekend. If you haven’t booked anything yet, there may still be a few tickets left. And for anyone distant from Perth, there are some great ‘watch-at home’ sessions. You can check the program here.