At the end of August, the inaugural Feminist Writers Festival (FWF) will launch what will (hopefully!) be a yearly event celebrating feminist writing. Festival Chair, writer and academic, Cristy Clark calls it an opportunity to get together, to pick up conversations happening online and to get to know each other better.
It was through these online discussions, initially between Clark, Jo Case and Stephanie Convery, where the idea for the Feminist Writers Festival first came about. Now, this volley of digital conversation between like-minded feminists has moved off the internet and transformed into a three-day event: a networking day on Friday 26 August and two days of public programming afterwards co-curated with the Melbourne Writers Festival.
The festival’s goal? To be ‘intersectional and interrogative’. Committee member Veronica Sullivan trusts that the steering committee – which boasts names like Maxine Beneba Clarke, Monica Dux and Andie Fox, just to name a few – have created an event that is ‘inclusive’ and ‘productive’. With the steering committee all bringing their ‘very different respective personal, professional and academic backgrounds’ to an ‘open’ program planning process, she is looking forward to the program’s breadth and diversity of interest across the varying aspects of feminist thought and discussion. Sullivan mentions how important online spaces are for ‘opening up modern feminism to a plurality of expression’.
Sponsorship Manager and committee member, Stephanie Convery, reminds me that the space of writing can be a lonely one. Attending the festival gives the ‘opportunity to engage with other feminist writers in a productive space, to talk not only about politics but also about the politics of this particular craft’. Getting these writers together, writers ‘whose work pivots around making the world a better place for women’, means a chance to talk about what that better place might look like. The festival means that the public can get in on these conversations too. As writer and economist Andie Fox puts it, ‘attending means coming across one another.’
The festival is about celebrating where we are and ‘taking the conversation further, rather than any frustration with a lack of existing focus or representation’.
During our conversation on which feminist writers, speakers and artists had particularly influenced members of the committee, Sullivan lists influencers like Anna Krien, Tavi Gevinson, Jeanette Winterson and Roxane Gay alongside other steering committee members who have inspired her.
‘Emily Maguire’s Princesses and Pornstars and Monica Dux and Zora Simic’s The Great Feminist Denial were both formative for me as a baby femmo, providing me with accessible overviews of feminism’s successes and failures throughout the waves, particularly locating where Australian women stood in relation to these.’ Sullivan tells me.
Convery remembers reading Kaz Cooke’s Real Gorgeous at fourteen. ‘The next morning I threw out all the glossy magazines that had been making me feel bad about myself; I stopped worrying about how big my thighs were or whether people would judge me for what I ate, or how I dressed. It completely changed my sense of self and my relationship with my body.’
For many of the members, the festival has been the chance to get some of their feminist champions together: the program features prominent writers including Anne Summers, Charlotte Wood, Clementine Ford, Emily Maguire, Clare Wright and Karen Pickering appearing alongside the likes of Zoya Patel, who Cristy calls a ‘rising star’.
I wondered if any of the committee members felt that there was something lacking in the industry, and if that’s what drove them to cultivate this particularly feminist space. Clark explains that the festival is about celebrating where we are and ‘taking the conversation further, rather than any frustration with a lack of existing focus or representation’. She can easily identify other festivals that have encouraged feminist writers: The Emerging Writers’ Festival’s event #WritingWhileFemale and masterclass ‘A Room of One’s Own’; feminist sessions hosted by the Sydney Writers’ Festival; and, last year, Anne Summers’ three-day conference at the University of Technology Sydney, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of publication of her book, Damned Whores and God’s Police. And we have the Melbourne Writers Festival, – who Clark notes have a ‘longstanding interest and commitment to focusing on feminist writing’ – to thank for suggesting that the online discussions of feminist writers be transformed into this festival.
Fox agrees that the drive behind the festival wasn’t that there was anything lacking in the writing industry, but that more of this space is always needed in feminism. ‘It can feel isolating as a feminist if you live in a conservative area, work in a male-dominated workplace and aren’t attached to academia or community groups.’ FWF works to bring the ‘rich seam of feminism in frontier country’ into its fold. ‘The Feminist Writers Festival is a chance for feminist writers and readers to be in the same space together.’ she continues. It’s a chance to see where the discussion goes and ‘to recharge one’s feminist batteries before going back out into the world’.
The Feminist Writers Festival will be held from Friday 26 to Sunday 28 August. Visit www.feministwritersfestival.com for more information on the program and to book your ticket.
With thanks to Cristy Clark, Stephanie Convery, Veronica Sullivan and Andie Fox.