Here’s what we have to look forward to at 2018’s Feminist Writers Festival

Just when we thought we couldn’t get more excited about this year’s Feminist Writers Festival, we had a chat with four of the incredible women involved in it. Read on for insight into their careers, the women who inspire them, and their roles in 2018’s Feminist Writers Festival, which runs in Melbourne and Geelong from Friday 25th to Sunday 27th May.

Veronica Sullivan

HCwBB: Please can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

VS: I’m an arts worker, writer, editor, feminist, and a member of the FWF board. I work as the programming manager at the Wheeler Centre, and I co-host a podcast, Sisteria, about women’s experiences as the creators and consumers of arts and culture.

HCwBB: What does your role as a board member of FWF entail, and why is it important to you?

VS: My contribution as an FWF board member spans a bit of everything—from big-picture, long-term planning for the organisation, thinking about the work we do, why we do it, and how we can grow and evolve as a festival; to whatever smaller tasks pop up around our events. Often this means offering our incredible management team an extra set of hands or eyes whenever needed—whether to proofread a program or host an event. As a young organisation primarily staffed by volunteers, there’s always something (or several things) that need doing.

I think the work of FWF is vital in building a strong, inclusive community of feminist writers and readers in Australia. I’m immensely proud to be part of it.

HCwBB: What does an average workday look like for you?

VS: I work full-time at the Wheeler Centre where I focus on curating, planning, and delivering our year-round program of events focusing on books, writing, and ideas. My role involves ensuring the events that we’re hosting in any given week run smoothly, while also devising events up to six months ahead. There’s a lot of juggling involved to ensure the success of both immediate and future events

HCwBB: What do you hope attendees can take away from FWF?

VS: I hope attendees find themselves inspired, challenged, and nourished. I hope they find a space for genuine feminist community and collaboration, as well as discovering new and remarkable feminist voices they may not have encountered before.

HCwBB: Who are some of the women that inspire you most and why?

VS: I’m energised by the uncompromising voices of the many women writers producing vital work in Australia right now, whether their writing is overtly feminist or not. I’m thinking of established writers such as Helen Garner, Anna Krien, Alexis Wright, Fiona Wright, Alison Whittaker, Maria Tumarkin, Ellen van Neerven, and Krissy Kneen; along with newer and emerging voices such as Nayuka Gorrie, Winnie Dunn, Ellena Savage, Zoya Patel, and Ana Maria Gomides. As a reader, I feel very lucky to have the chance to read their beautiful, necessary words and ideas.

Jennifer Mills

HCwBB: Please can you tell us a bit about what you do?

JM: I write novels, short stories, and essays, and I’m the fiction editor at Overland literary journal. My latest book is the novel Dyschronia, about climate change, capitalism, and the perception of time.

HCwBB: What does an average workday look like for you?

JM: It depends what I’m working on, but I’m usually at my desk from 8-4 and juggling some combination of writing, editing, emails, administration, applying for grants, doing media etc. I supplement my creative income with freelance work, so that sometimes has to take priority. I live in a small country town and work from home, so I use Twitter to stay connected with other writers.

HCwBB: Tell us about your event, Mentoring Feminists, Mentoring Writers. What do you hope attendees will be able to take away from it?

JM: I want to talk about how and why mentoring is done well or badly in the industry, and how we can do better. Sometimes our gender conditioning can mean we have trouble asking for help when we need it.

I will draw on experiences of queer kinship and regional community networks to look at how we can expand the concept of mentoring beyond professional and institutional models.

I hope that it’s a practical session that will empower writers, editors, and other creatives to seek out and nurture their own mentor/mentee relationships.

HCwBB: What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d been given earlier in your career?

JM: To weigh the advice of others carefully against my own best judgement.

HCwBB: Who are some of the women that inspire you most and why?

JM: My mother, a painter, is my first creative mentor—her generosity and persistence in her craft is always inspiring. For courage, I look to artists and writers who have succeeded in developing their own unconventional modes of storytelling in the service of justice, like Laurie Anderson, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alexis Wright.

Ann-Marie Priest

HCwBB: Please can you tell us a bit about what you do?

AMP: I study and write about books and writers. I also work part-time as an academic at Central Queensland University.

For many years, my role at CQU was to help students who were new to academia develop the writing skills they needed in their courses. I would help them to get their heads around what was required in an academic essay or report—what kind of writing this is, how it works, how to do it effectively. In this role, my goal was always to try to help students connect with their writing tasks.

I wanted them to come to see these rather rigid genre conventions as tools they could use to communicate their ideas, to express themselves and their learning, rather than just as a way to tick the right boxes and get good marks.

Then, last year, I took a full-time secondment to teach literary studies to undergraduates. I taught four courses over the year, ranging from Shakespeare-on-film to contemporary Australian literature. This was the first time in quite a while that I’d taught full-time and it was hugely challenging, but also hugely rewarding. The downside was that I had no time to work on my own current obsession, a biography of Tasmanian poet Gwen Harwood, which I’ve been working on intermittently for about three years.

I’ve now taken some leave from my job and am spending most of my time trying to work out how to get some semblance of Gwen down on paper.

HCwBB: What sort of challenges have you faced throughout your career to date and how have you overcome them?

AMP: Hmmm… To me, the word ‘career’ doesn’t really define my working life. Maybe that is my main challenge?! There’s been work that pays the bills, and that has often taken me in interesting directions, and then there’s been the pursuit of my own literary obsessions, which has sometimes resulted in an essay or a book. I’ve always struggled to find some kind of fit between these two things. In fact, this is partly what led to my book A Free Flame—the desire to make some sense of a life driven by inner imperatives, rather than by external ones like paid work. I really wanted to explore what a sense of vocation looked like in the lives of some great Australian writers—and specifically women writers, because for women, the idea of a vocation to anything other than motherhood is still kind of new.

HCwBB: What does an average workday look like for you?

AMP: At the moment, I’m writing full-time—a very rare occurrence in my life, let me stress!—so my workday involves going to my home-office (the second bedroom) in the morning to stand at my desk and puzzle over the pieces of this strange, oddly misshapen jigsaw that is my Harwood biography in its present disassembled state.

My time is my own, so I have the huge luxury of following my natural rhythms with my writing—I stop when I’m stuck, walk when I’m restless, rest when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, read when the well is dry.

I guess I’m leading quite a solitary existence at the moment, but I’m relishing that.

HCwBB: Tell us about Legacy Books: Their Impact, Their Legacy, Our Future and what attendees can expect from the event?

AMP: This is the opening night session of the Festival, and brings together five very different feminist writers (who are also readers, of course) to talk about the books that have shaped them. I think what attendees can expect is a wide-ranging conversation about books past and present and their power to help us think about—see, challenge, and change—ourselves and the world. I’m really looking forward to hearing about the books that have been important to the other writers on the panel—Virginia Woolf said that “we think back through our mothers if we are women”, and I think it’s so important that we name and make visible our literary ‘foremothers’.

HCwBB: Who are some of the women that inspire you most and why?

AMP: At the moment, the woman who is having the biggest impact on me would have to be Gwen Harwood, who died in 1995. I’m immersed in her letters and poems as I work on her biography, and I’m so inspired by her fierce independence of mind, the way she shot back at a patriarchal literary culture, the way she was always questioning, reflecting, but also living so eagerly and passionately. I think above all I admire the way she found her own voice as a poet within a literary culture that was shouting at her with so many different voices.

A living woman who inspires me—and who also happens to be a writer—is Hilary Mantel. In her memoirs, she writes about her endometriosis, which was severe, and which as a young woman in the 1970s she could find no-one to diagnose. She went in for diagnostic surgery at the age of 27 and emerged from the operating theatre with no uterus or ovaries—a devastating, almost unthinkable, scenario. But even this did not fix the problem and she’s continued to suffer from the condition—it’s really been a huge, horrendous health disaster for her, which made it impossible for her to have the kind of active career she had once thought of having. And yet she has written these amazing, strenuous books, these huge novels based on intense research and brilliant, wry, hilarious observation, and her writing just sings. And she’s won the Man Booker twice. My admiration for her is endless.

Tara Moss

HCwBB: Please can you introduce yourself?

TM: Introductions are awkward, but hi! I’m an author, novelist, public speaker, documentary maker, and advocate.

HCwBB: What does an average workday look like for you?

TM: In truth there’s no average day for me. I have a personal motto: “Life is too short to live the same day twice”, and I do live by that. Because most of my work life is spent writing, I’m often at home working on a novel, academic essay, or article, but I also travel a lot and write on the road. Caravans, planes, automobiles, hotel rooms—you name it.

HCwBB: Tell us about your event, Writing Violence, Writing Change. What do you hope attendees will be able to take away from it?

TM: I hope we’re able to touch on the capacity for stories of violence to influence social and cultural change, as #MeToo and many breakthrough autobiographies show us.

When written or spoken by survivors of violence, we gain insight into violence and surviving it, but that process of speaking out can be both empowering and potentially re-traumatising for the speaker. This is where self-care is vital.

I wrote on this subject at length in my book Speaking Out.

On another note, I’m currently writing a 10th novel, and I see the crime genre as a potential site for subversion of common tropes about female victims and white male heroes, so writing about violence can also be about fictional violence and how our fictional stories can influence change and perspectives.

HCwBB: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your career?

TM: Perhaps that it’s diverse. Some people remember that I wrote a book, or did a photo shoot, or was on TV once, but after writing 11 books in three genres, doing a lot of public speaking, and hosting several documentaries, I’m no more convinced that narrowing the field of interest for me is important or necessary. I have broad interests and that is just who I am. I will go where my brain (and heart) takes me.

HCwBB: Who are some of the women that inspire you most and why?

TM: I’m inspired by a range of women, including my late mother Janni Moss, the women of WW2 who kept calm and carried on, aviator Amelia Earhart, NZ PM Jacinda Ardern, actor and inventor Hedy Lamarr, Marie Stopes, Australian writers Emily Maguire, Helen Garner, Charlotte Wood, and Kerry Greenwood, Prof Larissa Behrendt, my academic supervisors Natalya Lusty, Meaghan Morris, and Elspeth Probyn. I could go on. How long do you have?

Read more about the above-mentioned events and get your tickets to the Feminist Writers Festival HERE!


All images provided by and used with permission from Feminist Writers Festival

Compiled and edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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