Michael Williams Takes the Wheeler Centre to the Legal Profession

Head of Programming Michael Williams

Head of Programming Michael Williams

In 2010 the Wheeler Centre was employed by law firm, Minter Ellison, to present a series of literary lunchtime lectures as part of its staff engagement program. Michael Williams, Head of Programming, reflects on the experience.

It’s a busy life being a lawyer. If you have to break your day down to billable hours, time for yourself is hard to find. A walk in the park, a leisurely cup of coffee, attending literary events at the city’s newest cultural institution; these things take time that your average lawyer just can’t spare. So it made sense to us to take a little bit of the Wheeler Centre to the hard-working team at Minter Ellison over 6 weeks in October and November.

To enhance the idiosyncratic Wheeler Centre flavour, our crack development manager Fiona Menzies offered my services, as head of programming for the Centre, to bring literature to the 23rd floor of the Rialto. Each week we discussed a different literary field or genre and, after an addled overview by yours truly, the lucky Minter Ellison staff got to hear from some of Melbourne publishing’s finest minds.

Week 1 featured Kate Holden reflecting on the pleasures and pitfalls of memoir writing; week 2 it was Nam Le’s turn, sharing his experiences as a short-story writer and discussing the culture surrounding literary awards and prizes. Lisa Gorton eased the boardroom into the world of poetry and Readings managing director Mark Rubbo cast light on the lot of the Australian writer and reminisced about 30 years in the book trade.

By week 5, just as the assembled Minter staff were beginning to question my gravitas, we were joined by my old English professor Peter Steele, who failed to reassure me that I wasn’t the worst student he’d ever had but illuminated us all on the classics. Finally, to ease the assembled back into the world of the law and away from literary flights of fancy, Shane Maloney revealed some home-truths about the life of the crime writer.

The generous and hospitable crowd who turned up each lunchtime left happy at the end of the 6 week run. Sure, their time might have been better spent outside in the sun, but I suspect that this Christmas many of them will be curling up with a book. What better way to spend the 15 minutes their employers give them to mark the season?