Unique among Australia’s literary festivals, Adelaide Writers’ Week is a place where readers can take a chance on writers they don’t know without an upfront investment (the ticket). That, and they can always get a seat.
In a world of shrinking literary pages and marketing budgets, festivals are more important than ever, and for emerging writers and writers who are new to this market, Writers’ Week offers them the brass ring – readership. Because once you discover a writer you enjoy, you’ll keep reading them, book after book, and that’s how writers make careers.
For readers, Writers’ Week offers access to writers whose books may not yet be at local bookshops and libraries. Listening to the writers talk about their work encourages readers to make discoveries and to try new kinds of books, and of course, it helps make those all-important book club choices.
Broadly speaking, the writers I select for the Adelaide program fall into two groups: writers I’ve admired for some time and those I’ve recently discovered. And while it is always great fun to bring the super-famous to Adelaide, it is getting audiences for these lesser-known writers that delights me most. One of the strange quirks of my life is that I want everyone reading what I’m reading.
This year I’m thrilled to be able to bring the literary titan Jim Shepard to Adelaide. Shepard is among the greatest of contemporary fiction writers and yet people don’t really know him here. His recent novel, The Book of Aron, is simply spectacular, as are his short stories.
Other writers I’ve admired for many years who won’t be well known here are Laura van den Berg, who is an insanely gifted fiction writer; Paul Yoon, whose novel Snow Hunters is one of my favourite books of this festival; and Jesse Ball, whose strange, clever, funny novels I’ve admired for many years. Lauren Groff is another talented writer whose Fates & Furies is such a glorious ride I’ve foisted it upon most of our office.
I want Writers’ Week to cater to all sorts of readers, but am always conscious that it is literary fiction and poetry that need the most support, so it is important we feature debut writers. Standouts this year include Max Porter and his novel Grief is the Thing With Feathers, a profoundly moving meditation on loss. Virginia Reeve’s novel, Work Like Any Other, is set in 1920s Alabama and tells the story of a man’s faith in his marriage. Catherine Lacey comes to the festival with Nobody is Ever Missing, an elegant novel about a woman escaping life.
One of the themes that is certainly emerging in each of my Writers’ Weeks is that vexatious word “feminism”, so it’s important to me that alongside Jane Caro (Plain-Speaking Jane) and Charlotte Wood (The Natural Way of Things) we are introducing writers such as Joanna Walsh, creator of @read_women and the author of the memoir Hotel and the story collection Vertigo. Other young women in the program who are writing about women are the novelists Peggy Frew, Mireille Juchau and short story writer Tegan Bennett Daylight.
As delightful as it is to put these writers on stage, listening isn’t enough. Possibly the most important thing a reader will do at Writers’ Week is purchase a book. We are a tiny little market here in Australia and when we buy a book here, be it at Writers’ Week or a local bookshop, we are supporting our writers; as the adage has it, pennies make dollars – and trust me, writing is a tough gig.
So if you fall a little bit in love with someone on stage, buy the book if you can. And if you can’t, no worries, visit a library – that counts, too.
Adelaide Writers’ Week runs from February 27 until March 3 at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, with free open-air sessions and a line-up that also includes Alexander McCall Smith, Lisa Genova, Robert Dessaix and Magda Szubanski. You can download the full program here.
Read more Adelaide Writers’ Week stories and guest author book extracts here.
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