Ahead of 2017's Emerging Writers' Festival, we have a chat to Artistic Director Izzy Roberts-Orr on what to expect from her first year at the helm. 

What is the Emerging Writers Festival, and what sets it apart?

The Emerging Writers’ Festival is an annual 10-day writers’ festival in Melbourne, and something that sets us apart is the fact that we’re a festival for writers. By this I mean that the artists and audience are often very much interchangeable – emerging storytellers from all forms come along to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

The number one thing I think the festival facilitates is community. Finding your people is one of the first and most important parts of finding your feet in a writing career, and the professional development and ideas that are covered in the festival also end up leading to people making really strong connections with each other.

How does the festival define “emerging”?

As an artist and a storyteller, you’re constantly emerging and evolving, and learning new skills that shape the way you work. We see an ~emerging~ storyteller as someone who identifies as a writer or storyteller, and is at an investigative, early or experimental stage within their practice.

One thing people seem to get confused about often is whether you have to be ~young~ to be emerging – and we would say absolutely not! You can be any age, at any stage, and working in a broad range of storytelling mediums beyond traditional *for the page* to be emerging.

Whether you’ve just started drafting notes for a memoir, recorded the first episode of your podcast, had your book or poem published, developed a work for performance, or a script for TV – if you’re interested in storytelling, and you want to be inspired by the people around you, EWF is probably for you.

What are some of the festival highlights? The program looks like a good mix of old favorites and new ideas.

Opening Night is going to be really special this year, featuring poet Omar Sakr, illustrator Rachel Ang, and our Indonesian exchange artist, sci-fi writer Azri Zakkiyah. We’ll also be hearing from the makers of the Messenger podcast, a collaborative project between Melbourne journalist Michael Green and Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who reports on the conditions he faces in detention on Manus Island.

Amazing Babes frankly always lives up to its name, and this year the line-up of phenomenal women couldn’t be more wonderful. Plus, Sovereign Trax (aka Hannah Donnelly) is DJing, as if we needed any more amazingness to cap it off!

Songs and Stories features another jaw-droppingly talented line-up of babe folk, and between the tunes and the spoken word, this celebration of everything ~home~ means is gonna to go off.

I’m also super excited about the Screenwriting Masterclass, because there’s a real focus on industry insider knowledge, and the practicalities of breaking into screenwriting. This includes a case study with the team behind indie comedy That’s Not Me (premiering soon at Sydney Film Festival and Santa Barbara Film Festival), one of the creators of The Kettering Incident and the producers adapting Stella Prize-winning novel The Natural Way of Things for film.

There are a couple of really good wrap-ups on our blog too, including our highlights from the National Writers’ Conference, and our top picks of the many free events.

What’s new this year?

Each year, we run a Creative Producer internship program – in fact, three of our core staff (myself, General Manager Will and Program Manager Else) all participated in the program before we were hired by EWF. The events that the Creative Producers have put together this year from concept, through curation to presentation reflect their interests, and are frankly very impressive and very cool. We have a Game ShowLiterary Live Artthe YA Masterclass, a podcast listening party and a primo bunch of ‘The Early Words’ and ‘Late Night Lit’ events.

Bad Writing came directly from the open artist callout – Tim McGuire pitched us his idea, and now he’s hosting the event!

Work in Progress brings young performers together to collaborate with writers, directors and musicians in the creation of a new work. Playwright Didem Caia has worked with the SeaACT ensemble to facilitate this original piece, which explores the difficulties of adolescence in a changing world.

Quippings: Disability Unleashed are taking to the stage at the Coopers Malthouse with their untamed, blatant, big LOVE SHOW. Performers with bodies and minds of unending variation, here and queer – it’s going to be ~wild~.

Lastly – me, I’m new! This is my first festival at the helm, and it’s been a wild and wonderful ride so far. If you see me around at the festival, do say hello.

What do you hope attendees will take away from the festival?

Rebecca Solnit says in Hope in the Dark, “Inside the word ‘emergency’ is ‘emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”

I hope that folks coming along to the festival will find community, kernels of wisdom, motivation and inspiration, new friends and new ideas; and I hope that people will find hope. A reminder of why telling stories is so important, and ensuring that we continue to make the space for multiple perspectives and avoid the dangers of a single narrative.


Image credit: Mark Lobo

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