Jini Maxwell: MWF Picks to Affirm Your Faith in the Power of Writing

Ahead of Melbourne Writers Festival 2018, writer and arts producer Jini Maxwell – who will be hosting a conversation with marine biologist Micheline Jenner – shares her picks from the MWF programme.

The incredible Melbourne Writers Festival 2018 programme offers events ranging from neural nets to Neko Case, dragtivism to dog appreciation; it feels hard to know where to begin booking. So, given the festival’s theme is A Matter of Life and Death, I’ve put together my pick of events that speak to living; specifically, to living creatively, and working in the arts.

The work of writing is for, and by, people.

Photo of an audience of people, with a man standing amongst them holding a microphone

When you’re neck deep in a grant application or staring down the barrel of a deadline, it is easy to forget the simple truth that the work of writing is for, and by, people. I’ve always considered my role as an arts worker as one inextricably bound to the idea of making space. The events I’ve chosen here reflect this, too – making space for new work, for important voices, and also, in this all-consuming industry, making space for yourself and your needs.

These are my MWF picks for the artist or arts worker who needs a reminder of why we love what we do, and the vital role art plays in how we live, sustain, and understand ourselves and those around us.

1. Conversations: Ashleigh Young: Written on the Body

Youth and aging, ambition and disappointment, Katherine Mansfield and NZ punk rock: when poet Ashleigh Young turned her hand to essays, the result was extraordinary. In this deeply personal conversation the writer and winner of the prestigious Windham-Campbell prize talks with Cate Kennedy.

Ashleigh Young’s graceful, considered poetry and prose fills me with delight as a reader, and with quiet resolve as a writer. I can’t imagine a Saturday afternoon more creatively galvanising than seeing her in conversation with the incredible Cate Kennedy.

(2.30pm, Saturday 25 August at Mission to Seafarers; $22/19.)

2. Sacred Texts: The book that made me a feminist

The path to feminism often begins with the powerful act of discovering the right text at the right time. Neko Case, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Michelle Law, Hollie McNish and Emily Nussbaum nominate the novel that set them alight.

What can I say that this artist list and topic doesn’t say for itself? This event promises to work as a powerful affirmation of what good writing can achieve.

(11.30am, Sunday 26 August at Deakin Edge, Fed Square; $22/19.)

3. Afro Hub:  Breaking Down the Publishing World

A workshop and networking event to help emerging writers understand the ‘how to’ of getting a book published. With distinguished publishers, book publicists and authors, discover how to open a window into the publishing world. 

In a programme where ticket prices can get pretty steep, it’s fantastic to see some industry events available to those of us in the arts who can’t afford to fork out a 50 for a 90-minute event. Afro Hub is a perfect venue for a fun, engaging, accessible arts mixer, without the wank.

(7pm, Tuesday 28 August at Afro Hub; free.)

4. Speculative Futures: Writing Tactics for Survival

Join scriptwriter Michele Lee, epidemiologist Jodie McVernon and writer Ellen van Neerven, all involved in the Arts House Refuge project, looking at the ways in which writing will inform our approach to future disasters and frame artistic responses to climate change.

Writing plays such a weighty role in how people conceptualise the world; I love events that take art seriously. I’m excited and terrified to see the conclusions drawn by three people from such disparate professional backgrounds, and to hear them speak to the role of art in responding to disaster.

(Friday 31 August, 10am at Deakin Edge, Fed Square; $22/19.)

5. Workshops: Industry insights: How White is My Writing?

Does your writing accurately reflect the world around you, and how can you improve your racial literacy? Writers Sam Cooney, Elena Gomez and Hella Ibrahim, and academic Odette Kelada explore representation in literature.

Personally, I’d walk over hot coals to hear Hella Ibrahim, Sam Cooney and Elena Gomez discuss just about anything, but this workshop looks particularly good. It’s great to see a sprawling, multifaceted topic like this being approached not just in writing, but also from editorial, academic and publishing perspectives.

(5.30pm, 31 August at Forum Theatre, University of Melbourne; $50/40.)

6. Local Libraries: Ali Cobby Eckermann

Meet one of Australia’s greatest living poets, Indigenous writer Ali Cobby Eckermann. Author of the verse novel, Ruby Moonlight,  poetry collection, Inside my Mother, and the memoir, Too Afraid to Cry. In 2017 she was awarded Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize in Poetry. 

If any event is worth a roadtrip, it’s this one. To anyone who loves Australian poetry, Ali Cobby Eckermann needs no introduction – her work is generous, clarifying, unrelenting and precise, not to mention universally acclaimed. I’m surprised she isn’t featured more prominently in the programme, but I feel oddly moved at the chance to see her speak in my hometown.

(6.30pm, Friday 31 August at Geelong Library and Heritage Centre; free.)

7. Workshop: The Ideas Hospital: Jerome Doraisamy and Bri Lee

Join former legal professionals turned writers Jerome Doaisamy and Bri Lee to hear about working and writing within the industry, how to care for oneself when writing about personally taxing issues, and how the law should look after us too. 

Writers have a responsibility to their audience, but we also have a responsibility to ourselves. I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Bri Lee to advise on boundaries between the personal and professional. That said, Jerome Doraisamy has literally written the book about it.

(10am, Sunday 2 September at the Cube, ACMI; free.)

8. Staged: Death of a Playwright

Could an artificial neural network ever write Hamlet? Or Home and Away? With advancing technology, could AI replace artists altogether? Join theatre scholar Rachel Fensham and digital artist Chris Rodley for a performance of scripts authored by AI.

This looks like a fascinating, playful take on the outer limits of meaning and authority in the age of the internet. And as a long time fan of Chris Rodley’s work, I’m thrilled to see digital creativity brought into the literary sphere.

(2.30pm, Sunday 2 September at ACMI Studio 1; $22/19.)

Photograph of a geometrically designed theatre glowing with red light from the stage, centre
Portrait of Jini Maxwell

Jini Maxwell is a writer and arts producer with an interest in making and facilitating sincere, playful work. She is co-editor of the Lifted Brow, and co-director of NYWF. 

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