ADELAIDE WRITERS’ WEEK 2018
This has to be one of my favourite weeks of the year. Falling under the umbrella of the Adelaide Festival, Writers’ Week is an open air literary festival that takes place under the canopy of leaves and sails in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. For one week leading Australian and overseas authors gather to talk in gentle but incisive cadences about their books, about writing, about life. This year’s star performer was Barbara Kingsolver, author of international bestsellers The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna.
Every sentence should be a poem.
A common theme of the week from the American authors was the moral decline of the USA in the application (or not) of human rights, justice, tolerance, inclusion and empathy. In this vane, southerner Michael Farris Smith (Desperation Road, The Fighter), spoke of the much maligned state of Mississippi, asserting, “now every state is Mississippi.” Laleh Khadivi, in discussing A Good Country, the final installment of her multi-generational Kurdish trilogy, spoke of the inherent racism of the glass ceiling that migrants to the US, however successful or talented, never break through, providing a fertile ground for radicalisation. However it was Ms Kingsolver, with the hindsight of years and wisdom gained from an intercontinental and nomadic youth, who took this critique to another level, describing The Poisonwood Bible as an American heart of darkness novel. She related, to great acclaim, how she had harnessed the energy of the hate mail (including death threats) she had received in the Mexico-based The Lacuna, reproducing the letters verbatim as mail to her persecuted protagonist. She also noted America’s suspicion of any social commentary in art as being “political” or “unpatriotic.” Her best note however related to the writing process (and the reader’s experience): “Every sentence should be a poem.”
Dystopian themes are prevalent in contemporary literature. Maja Lunde (A History of Bees), Jennifer Mills (Dyschondria) and Cory Doctorov (Walkaway) discussed aspects of ecological catastrophe and societal breakdown, but also of hope. Lunde’s fiction regarding modern beekeeping is particularly disturbing in that only the characters are fictional- Colony Collapse Disorder (of hives) and hand-pollinating in the absence of bees are real things today. Whilst the subject matter is dark, it is refreshing to hear intelligent, considered discussion, rather than polarised political diatribe: ideas as ideas, not as ideology, or weapons.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Rock star Tim Rogers‘ (opposite) frank musical memoir Detour provided moments of light relief. The music scene was explored from the opposite angle in Stephen Dando–Collins‘ Mr Showbiz, a biography of Adelaidean concert mogul Robert Stigwood. Crowd favourite Alexander McCall Smith also appeared with his infectious sense of fun to wrap up an intellectually re-invigorating week. Now let’s read some books.
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