The Hobart Writers Festival will be on next weekend – 9th and 10th of October 2021. It has been keeping me very busy over the last few weeks, mostly on things like the website, ticketing and other marketing collateral, but what I’m happiest about is having facilitated several sessions that will bring some amazing writers, stories and poems to the Festival. You’re not supposed to have favourites, but here are my Festival picks:
- Writing out Adversity: bushfires, tree pulling and the pandemic – James Parker is an interesting writer and historian from my ‘Neck of the woods’, who instigated and hosts Forty South’s “Van Diemen Decameron”. The Decameron has been collecting writers’ responses to COVID-19 – which are many and varied – and the project is, itself, a historical document. Co-hosting this session at the Writers Festival is Mary-Lou Stephens, author of The Last of the Apple Blossom, which is backgrounded by the 1967 Tasmanian bush fires and demise of the Tasmanian apple industry. Mary-Lou and James are both deeply thoughtful, knowledgeable and inspired by the island’s history, but they take quite different approaches to writing about it. I love it when people from different ‘boxes’ come together, and I’m sure some really interesting things are going to come out of this presentation.
- History, Nature and Hermits – I was lucky enough to have helped Geoff Harwood bring forth the incredible true story of Jackey Stevens, and his own friendship with Jackey. It will be released imminently, under the title The Last Hermit of Tasmania’s West Coast. It’s an amazing story of an individual and his human and non-human world, during a lifetime that spanned a period when events of global significance touched even the ‘far west’ of lutruwita-Tasmania.
I will be writing more about this amazing story as soon as the Festival is over and I have time for it! But for now, know that Geoff will be revealing some of Jackey’s story in this session, and his company could not be better – Katherine Johnson and Pete Hay understand the social and environmental fabric of this island extremely well, and have thought deeply about ‘history, nature and hermits’. I am really looking forward to their ‘invigilation’ of Geoff and Jackey’s story.
- The More Than Human Poetry Project is offering two sessions at the Festival – on the Saturday: Embracing the Biome; and on the Sunday: Writing for a World on Edge. Orchestrated by Kristen Lang, the MTHPP might sound like a mouthful, but one might say that the mouth is the interface between the internal dialogues of the participants with their worlds, and their external dialogues with other humans. So often our human languages struggle to bridge the gap between the two, failing to convey so much that we experience and know of the world, and, indeed, that the world ‘knows’ of itself. Poetry is the writing form that best offers that bridge to us and that lets us know the world in ways beyond the humans that we are now (perhaps enabling us to become the humans we might be one day…).
Twenty-three poets have contributed to the MTHPP, engaging with a series of probing and insightful prompts offered by Kristen Lang. They include some of our best known and most brilliant, and some fabulous lesser known poets too. Together they have produced more than 135 pages of poetry. So it’s clear that they need two sessions to share just a little of this!
There my ‘top three’ (or four) picks, for which I fully disclose my non-impartiality in having helped nudge them into being on Tassie the hungry devil’s Festival menu. In addition, a number of other sessions sound pretty interesting to me:
- Rebellious Facts and Comforting Fictions – problems I certainly find myself up against in thinking about the things I might be writing if I wasn’t finding too many other things to do!
- Mythical and Magical … writing extraordinary fictional worlds – For a start I’m a sucker for anything that enables me to transcend the ordinary world for a while. But, beyond all that, beyond the material world of appearances, I think there is a ‘deeper magic’ in the world and that we need writing like this to reveal it to us and help us understand what it means to our everyday lives. Heather Rose is, admittedly, the star attraction for me here. I find many parallels between her writings and Richard Flanagan’s, although their ways of writing and thinking are so different. I’m always curious to know more about what’s going on in her head.
- Postcards from an Island Dweller – Terry Whitebeach‘s one woman approach to this session is a stand-out. I wish there were more simple, creative efforts like this coming to the Festival (I’m putting that idea in my back pocket for later). I’m really curious to know what Terry’s postcards have to say and show. Her session is like a surprise parcel I can’t wait to open!
- And while we’re on an island theme (oh, maybe we were all along and I forgot…) – Island of Curiosities – Environmental Children’s Literature – I love children’s books. Books with pictures! Pictures are their own kind of poetry and they show us the world in ways that so often transcend what our words can say. Perhaps A Picture Saves a Thousand Words falls into this group too, although I don’t know… graphic novels are almost kind of like overload for me.
- Last but by no means least – the Emerging Tasmanian Aboriginal Writer Award this year was for poetry, and the poetry of Aboriginal thoughts and experiences and languages contains so much we could learn from and so much that is simply beautiful. There is a music and poetry in palawa kani that is only barely beginning to be felt. It will be an incredible flowering. And we all owe it to lutruwita-Tasmania’s First People to listen, to share, and to yarn if we are invited into that space, that Country, on this land that was never ceded.
I hope you can make it to the Festival. It would be good to see you. We’ve been through traumas, but we also have much to celebrate. I’m anticipating a certain levity and lots to think about.