The New Year: Melbourne Writers Festival

As 2011 ends and 2012 begins, we’ve invited our resident organisations to consider the year gone by and to share their plans for the year to come.

At the start of a new year it’s customary to reflect on what you’ve done and to use this to divine the year ahead. This is somewhat strange for us at the festival as our NYE is usually held on August 31, or thereabouts – at the end of the festival itself. In the office we’ve been talking about the 2012 festival in the present tense for quite some time already.

Given the sentiment that arises every December and which carries us through the traditional NYE, and given the shindigs that oil the wheels of conviviality during this time, it’s wonderful to be able to reflect on the connections that make the festival what it is.

Each year the festival tries to weave a multitude of bonds between readers and writers. We try to make physical that unnerving connection that’s created when two different minds are brought to bear on the same text. We do it by creating spaces for you to come together with like-minded souls (and un-like minded souls too). We do it by trying to realise ‘Melbourne’ through words – to recognise its cultural strengths through the writers and groups that give Melbourne its literary capital. And we do it by creating literary surprises for you around every corner. Perhaps, in a lazy but somewhat timely metaphor, the festival is like Christmas after all; I am however, not dressing up like Saint Nick (again).

Given it’s the start of a new year (in the Gregorian calendar, at least), it’s also timely to review some of our various successes for 2011, which include, in brief:
- Over 47,000 attendances
- Over 440 guests in over 300 events
- Our very own illustrated newspaper Drawn From Life
- Keynotes which spoke to the breadth of literature on offer – from Jonathan Franzen to Shaun Tan
- Big Ideas with Sophie Cunningham, Hon Justice Kirby and Mona Eltahawy, amongst many great others
- Closing the festival with a rousing oration from Richard Flanagan
- The widest range of performance events in the festival’s history, in venues from the Melbourne Recital Centre to the Corner Hotel and the Toff in Town
- Collaborations with over 100 partners to develop a program befitting the city and country
- Free events for almost 2500 students across regional Victoria
- Increased access for those in the hearing impaired community (and a much more engaged process)
- Working with our counterparts across the world’s Cities of Literature – from taking a contingent of Melbourne independent publishing experts to the Dublin Writers Festival to receiving an event from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and
- Working with the Australia Council and our partners in the Word Alliance to take Australian authors to the best overseas writers festivals.

So as we raise our glasses to 2011 we’re proud of the way we’ve connected with you and the world at large – with all those readers and writers we love, and indeed with all those who’ve touched us with their stories. As we go forward into 2012 we want to continue to highlight, question, understand and celebrate the ways in which writers make our world a better place, and we look forward to doing it with all of you, in our own festive way.

Steve Grimwade
Festival Director

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