Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sydney Writers’ Festival - a hotbed of stories, ideas, and debate

“Have we got a story for you” was the mantra for the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival and what amazing stories they had.

But what was so wonderful about Sydney Writers’ Festival was that it was more than just fiction. While the kind of fiction that propels you into another world was an integral part of the week, it was also debate and ideas that were also important parts of the festival.

This year politics and feminism were a common thread but then again, it seems that the things that you are passionate about are usually the things that stick out.

I quite like SWF’s approach of bring together authors, journalists and social commentators to discuss a particular theme such as the people behind politics, literary magazines, what feminism means today or political rhetoric. This way, the books were set in a wider context and it was more interesting than just going to multiple book launches.  

My festival journey began with attending the session on the Obama’s campaign and it was great to hear more about how different this campaign.

Obama campaign strategists Joe Rospars and Stephen Muller spoke about how this campaign was unique in that it put Americans back in the middle of the story and allowed them to take ownership of it. They used the campaign to reflect the community back to themselves and creating one of the most electric campaigns in history.    

The strategy built the capacity of ordinary Americans to organise themselves to develop relationships with those in their local community and have conversations about what kind of future they wanted for America.

In a time of political apathy and the dislike of the political “spin” machine at an all time high, the effect was amazing. Rospars and Muller spoke about the ways people involved including organising meetings in their house to talk about issues.

It made me think that in the end, what will be more powerful – a conversation over the fence between neighbours or a professional advert on primetime commercial TV?  

This session left many of us wanting these guys to stay behind in Australia to invigorate the upcoming federal election.

Another theme was feminism; there was Anne Summer’s Misogyny Factor, Naomi Wolf’s Vagina’s new biography, and a discussion about where feminism has gone since the publishing of the Feminist Mystique fifty years ago. Many events were co-presented with the Southbank Centre's Woman of the World Festival which provided us with many great role models who inspired us with their wisdom and passion for a better world.  

It was great to be reminded that feminism is not about hating men but economic and social equity to be able to be in control of your destiny and reproduction.

It was also good to hear about the relationship between women from the developed world and those from developing countries and how it important it is to stand up against issues such as genital mutilation, rape, forced marriages, etc but without taking control but listening and providing support in what way the women in those situations ask for.

Finally, Saturday night saw a packed out session at the Sydney Town Hall with feisty Ruby Wax and Shami Chakrabarti on the panel of five opinionated women.   While it started out about being about Vajazzling it went on to cover the politics of hair, what women do to their bodies and for whom as well as the women’s body as public property. It was a great night and you know it has been a powerful session when people continue to discuss ideas as they walk out.

Sunday was another day filled with sessions on Pride and Prejudice, what it means to have a good life and is rhetoric dead? It was another wonderful day filled with ideas, books and words.

I could go on forever singing the praises of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Their stories, ideas and discussions ring in my ears long after I’ve come home and luckily, the books and podcasts will continue to entertain, move and inspire me until next year.    

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