Focused on the themes ‘LAND. MONEY. POWER. SEX.’, Perth Festival’s 2020 Literature & Ideas was alive with sessions that provoked, stimulated, relaxed and/or consoled. Westerly was fortunate enough to have some live tweeters on board to cover many of the sessions, and we were fascinated to see if they could narrow down their favourites to one!
Our wonderful tweeters were Rachel Watts, Miah De Francesch (a long-standing Westerly associate), and the four participants in the 2019 Writers Development Program: Kaya Lattimore, Riley Faulds, Mia Kelly and Tom Simpson (also a former intern with us). Here’s what a few of them had to say.
It’s hard to choose, but I think my favourite session was ‘The Lebs’, with Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad in conversation with Terri-ann White. Though I haven’t yet read Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s book of the same name, the session also covered his work with Sweatshop in Western Sydney, and Ahmad had a lot to say about racial politics in Australia and what it means to be a person of colour, a writer of colour. I learned so much about race, oppression, identity, truth and power during the one-hour session. It was really valuable to me on a personal level, and I was reminded that writing is a political act, that writing from my reality as a queer person of colour is important and necessary.
Associate Professor Chelsea Bond’s delivery of the Randolph Stow Memorial Lecture was a powerful exploration of how settler-colonial Australian literature has worked to silence, limit and distort Indigenous voices and characters, in order to help white Australians justify paternalism and work through self-centred guilt. In fact, that was just one aspect of an incredibly comprehensive and passionately rational lecture on the continuing tradition of literary colonisation, as well as resistance against it. Few attending would have expected a Stow Memorial Lecture quite like it, but I doubt many would have left disappointed, or without having their thinking seriously extended and challenged.
In a weekend characterised by thoughtful conversations about identity, society and the expression of power, one of the free items packed quiet intrigue about the future and what it means to live through ecological collapse. ‘Stormy Weather’ allowed Catherine McKinnon and Arif Anwar to share their thoughts on writing ecological disaster with Gillian O’Shaughnessy, but also raised questions of relinquishing control and difficult truths.
While hope is a matter of human nature, perhaps even a coping mechanism, Anwar suggested that ‘truth’ was harder. ‘If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably the truth,’ he said. ‘Fiction is a great vehicle for the truth, and that’s why we return to it.’
McKinnon’s reflection on creating the future also offered much to think about. She described the join writing project 100 Atmospheres in which artists collaborated right down to the level of writing each other’s sentences. ‘We asked what if no-one had ownership of a sentence,’ she said.
The simple act of giving up control of the writing led to a broader symbolic question: what should we be prepared to give up in this uncertain Anthropocene? What would we give up to change the future? Where should we cede ownership or control? ‘All of these things are difficult,’ she said. ‘How can we give more than take all the time?’
What was your favourite session at Literature & Ideas? We’d love to know who and what have stayed with you from this rich and very full weekend!