Sydney Writers’ Festival: Week 115

Sydney Writers' Festival 2013

Following Gertrude Stein: In this panel discussion with readings, there will be spars with high and low culture, politics, wit and lots of energy.

Ugghh… This was not what I had in mind- being crammed inside a small, hot room overlooking Walsh Bay. Four presenters at the front of the room discussed experimental poetry while the late afternoon sun blinded and burned half the elderly audience.

Despite the sailboats gliding across the sapphire harbor and squawking seagulls swooping in front of the windows, people were somehow still paying attention. I don’t think it was a testament to the quality of the poems, but rather the soporific effects of warm weather.

It was the final day of the Sydney Writers’ Festival- an annual event which covered everything from poetry, workshops, feminism, and Australian fiction to an overview of Barack Obama’s digital campaign. Even Molly Ringwald was there to close the festival with her jazz band and new book When It Happens To You. So how exactly did I manage to pick the single most boring event?

Well, a couple weeks ago I realized that free workshops like So You Want to be a Writer? were already fully booked while the ones that might still have a few spots- Killings Your Darlings, Writing History, Freelance Writing for Magazines– cost  a minimum of $85 to attend.

While not a starving artist, I already had plans for my expendable money so I decided to focus on the less expensive author presentations. Since the first five days of the festival mostly took place during work hours, I was unfortunately limited to the closing weekend.

Festival Highlight: Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard discusses My Struggle, the six-volume autobiographical novel that intrigued the people of Norway to the extent that some workplaces had to declare “Knausgaard-free days”. By turning a frank and unforgiving eye on his own life- without changing any names- Karl shocked his family and became a media sensation.

One of the most interesting offerings on Sunday and at $14, one of the most sold out.

With an ever-narrowing selection to choose from I finally decided on Tales From the Editorial Front Line. However, because it was a free event without bookings, I found myself at the wrong end of a long queue.

Not wanting to listen to the presentation outdoors by speaker, I hastily jumped ship to follow people interested in other people following Gertrude Stein.

I wonder why the line was so short?

Just as I was leaving the festival totally dejected, I stopped near a group of people gathered around a pair of open windows. Inside was the tail-end of Words Collide, an exhibition of performance poets. Even with my limited view it was clear that the audience was electrified. The crowd stomped their feet in a rolling applause and hung off the balcony cheering.

The good news from the Sydney Writers’ Festival: not all poetry sucks.

The bad news from the Sydney Writers’ Festival: I still don’t know the gentle art of persuasion. Please send me $150 and I will find out next year how to supercharge my prose.

About: The Sydney Writers’ Festival

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