Introducing Wordstorm 2016 – the fabric of family
In the case that you missed Mary Anne Butler’s brilliant speech at the 2016 Wordstorm Program Launch last week, read on…
Like many brilliant literary initiatives, the first ever WordStorm writers’ festival was conceived over a very long night with far too much wine.
This is the little-known history of its origins…
Way back in 2003 I was given the rather lovely job of Executive Officer at the Northern Territory Writers’ Centre. My move to the Territory coincided with culture shock in terms of a feeling that I had dropped off the national literary map, and – as it happened – I had a long standing connection with the Varuna Writers’ Centre. So I got on to Peter Bishop who headed up Varuna and told him he’d better come up here and see the Northern Territory for himself – it was the National writers’ house, after all –
and that might help him to further understand regional disadvantage.
…so to his credit and in his affable generous way, Peter arrived to spend a few days in both Darwin and Alice Springs in order to meet with writers, hear their stories and read their works – and get to know the conditions under which we worked.
Budgets being what they are, he ended up being billeted with me – and as we all know, billeting can be a wonderful and surprising thing which frequently involves excessive alcohol consumption. So over one particularly long night and – from my foggy memory, around three bottles of wine – Peter and I problematized writing in the Northern Territory: the gaps, the positives, the challenges, the things we have here which exist nowhere else in the world. And by the end of that night, two things had happened:
The first is that a program called Longlines had been invented. Longlines was to be a long running residency opportunity held at Varuna. Open only to regional and remote writers, Longlines ran for 8 years and benefitted dozens of Northern Territory and other regional and remotely based writers, Australia-wide.
Secondly, a festival called WordStorm was born from that night. At one point it was going to be called ‘Burn-off’, but we thought that might attract punters who are more destined to the V8s.
As we swilled wine and yakked on into the night, Peter got more and more enthusiastic. He promised to send four writers to that very first WordStorm – at Varuna’s expense – as part of his ongoing commitment to the Northern Territory. It was an incredibly generous act, and one which set that first ever WordStorm festival – WordStorm 2004 – firmly on its feet.
Twelve years later, when I look at the WordStorm program which Sally Bothroyd, Fiona Dorrell and the NT Writers’ Centre Board and staff have compiled for us all, I see it as extremely fitting that the theme for 2016 is ‘The Fabric of Family’. Because many people living in the Northern Territory are part of one big community. We may not be related, but we are family nonetheless. We source our love, our strength, our energy, our creativity from each other – and we hopefully we give back some of the same.
When I was ten years old, I was sent away from my family to a boarding school. I hated it. I was alone and lonely, and it was books – literature – which sustained me through some incredibly dark times. I would curl up under my covers with a book long after lights out, to entre worlds where I could forget that I was locked in this institution, literally thousands of miles away from my blood family.
While boarding school was an extremely unhappy time for me, those years of reading set me up in a lifelong habit for which I am – today – incredibly grateful. Unhappy? Read a book. Bored? Read a play. Relationship troubles? Read aloud to each other: in bed, in the car, over dinner. Switch off the telly and tell or read stories. About who we are. About where we’ve come from. About where we’re heading. Books give is succor and strength and love. They challenge our thinking and assumptions, and offer us a hand to hold when we’re alone. They show ways to to climb out of the black pit of depression, and they teach us to soar with the elated angels. They offer possibility, and hope. Good literature is friend, muse, inspiration and teacher – and the 2016 WordStorm program has all of the above, and so much more:
- Book launches: that glorious moment when brand new works which have taken years to write finally fall into readers’ hands for the first time, ever.
- In-conversations and author talks, where we can access the minds and hearts of some of this country’s great raconteurs: Madga Subanski, Richard Glover and Tony Birch – as well as the extraordinary Eka Kurniawan and Eliza Vitri Handayani, all the way from Indonesia.
- The Fabric of Family has theatre, music and – of course – the great comedy debate. Poetry and prose, family recipes revealed, panels which deal with: living on country, panels where shared secrets from fractured families are divulged. Craft panels about writing the graphic novel, or adapting from one genre to another.
One of the great logistical challenges which the NT Writers’ Centre faces, is its ongoing commitment to encourage vibrant literary activity across the entire Northern Territory; developing and supporting writers in all genres at all stages of their careers.
I think what I love most about this 2016 NT Writers’ Festival that it achieves both those tasks extremely well. It is egalitarian in nature. Writers from across the NT being brought to the Top End to showcase and share their work, with an equitable spread of billing between emerging and established writers, local and nationally based practitioners as well as some very special international guests. This is a massive achievement, and I believe that the NT Writers’ Centre has done NT writers particularly proud, with their programming this year.
…so to Sally Bothroyd on her first ever WordStorm festival, to Fiona Dorrell, the NT Writers’ Centre’s Alice Springs lynch-pin, to the NT Writers’ Centre Board, to Arts NT, The Australia Council for the Arts, to all the funders, supporters and writers who continue to make the NT Writers’ Centre such a vital part of the Northern Territory’s literary community – thank you.
…and bring on May 5th, when the literary celebrations begin…