The 2021 Brisbane Writers Festival

Brisbane Writer’s Festival is a whirlwind—a flurry of ideas, brimming with creative energy and fast-moving. It’s the equivalent of a music festival for avid readers and writers, both aspiring and the literary rock stars that inspire. The State Library of Queensland a natural choice of venue, where research, conversation, debate, learning, collection, and enjoyment of stories is supported and encouraged as fundament. The land itself, has a long history of storytelling in its very fibre, experienced and expressed through its custodians the Yuggera, Jagera and Turrubul peoples for tens of thousands of years.

Eager crowds were keen to hear Australian publishing industry giants speak on craft, as well as sharing their experiences of living a creative life, along with an abundance of advice both artistic and practical. The multi-day event offered diverse in-person and online panels and discussions. Survival and hope two key threads running throughout sessions, timely, given the global pandemic upending all our lives this past year.

The Author/Editor Showcase was a highlight. Moderated by Griffith Review editor Ashley Hay - featuring Bundjalung editor Grace Lucas-Pennington from State Library’s black&write! Indigenous Writing & Editing Program with Māori-Australian editor, poet and weaver Anne-Marie Te Whiu - we learnt the importance of this collaborative creative partnership. That trust, respect, and communication build productive, fruitful connections. It also highlighted how the books we read, really do take a village to create them.

In kuril dhagun, Dr Anita Heiss of the Wiradjuri Nation and lifetime ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, launched her latest book Bila Yarrudhamggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) with panache and humour. She had the audience’s full attention as she shared the profound true story – the dramatic flooding of the country town of Gundagai in the 1850s - that inspired the work, along with its universal themes of love, loss and belonging.

Both Griffith Review’s panels, Remaking the Balance and States Of Mind, reinforced why the publication is one of the most highly regarded literary journals in Australia. To hear the journal’s most exciting contributors of recent issues expand on their ideas beyond printed word, was thought-provoking and enjoyable. Explorations of real-world living while manifesting creative potential and our relationship with our resources were riveting.

The World’s Biggest Survival Story at The Edge Auditorium unfolded in front of a packed house. Wuilli Wuilli writer Lisa Fuller, Bundjalung author Melissa Lucashenko, Torres Strait Islander writer Thomas Mayor and Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian author Uncle Bruce Pascoe came together for one of the most powerful conversations of the day. For at least 65,000 years First Nations people have existed, persisted, and thrived on this continent, the speakers gave rousing accounts of struggle (there were tears) and resilience (and cheers). There were visions for what could be—a better future for all. “If you get hurt and you turn away you allow the prevailing idea to stay gripped around the nations throat…” Uncle Bruce roused, with Lucashenko adding, “I don’t think any of us are going to give up anytime soon.” More cheers. When Mayor recited the Uluru Statement from the Heart straight from his heart, without notes, all in attendance were visibly moved.

Sharing time and space with Song Of The Crocodile author Nardi Simpson is alike to reading her debut novel, a beautiful, moving experience. The Yuwaalaraay storyteller is thoughtful and generous with her words. The in-conversation session illuminated some of the deep ideas and moments from the award-wining novel, including a passage the author read which simultaneously channelled both new life and death. The words so powerful, many in attendance were later spied in the festival bookshop with book in hand headed towards the cashier. Nardi’s final words for the day left this writer very inspired: “I tell stories of people who make life beautiful.”

This was the first Brisbane Writer’s Festival I attended. And just like that, I realised at its very core it is a celebration of people who make life more beautiful through sharing their art with the world. Books and words, spark the imagination, allow us to escape, they expose us to new ideas, help us grow, gifts us new perspectives and help us feel connected, to ourselves and others through story. Brisbane Writer’s Festival is more than “where stories live”—it’s where they really come alive!

Recommended BWF Author Reading List:

Bianca Valentino is an Editor Intern with State Library's black&write! project. The black&write! project was established to train First Nations editors to work in the Australian publishing industry, and to support First Nations authors in their career development.

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