Ten Best Bits Of Melbourne Writers Festival

MWF starts on Thursday August 22, and it's looking pretty huge. We asked Sam Cooney, editor of Melbourne-based literary journal The Lifted Brow, to share his program highlights. It's a damn fine list.

The Melbourne Writers Festival is coming back around again, like a seasonal flu, or the horses at the races, or the moon. But unlike a flu, horses, or the evil evil moon, the MWF is aces. Each year wondrous people from overseas are flown here to hang out professionally and in full public view with the wondrous people that we’ve grown here ourselves. It’s like being at the aquarium — you can gawk and gape at these writers and thinkers, and tap on the tank glass and take silly photos, because these writers and thinkers are here for your entertainment, and they will let you do what you want because you are how they make a crust.

Below are my top ten picks of what to do/who to see at the upcoming MWF, which launches on August 22. You don’t have to follow my advice, but then again, you definitely should. (I’d refer you to the last few people who didn’t follow my advice, but I can’t because they died of being boring.) Have a good time, not a long time!

Teju Cole Ain’t A Twit, Nor Is He Twee

Small Fates with Teju Cole: Sunday August 25, 10am @ Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia — tickets here.

Teju Cole is cool as shit, and not in any vapid or jejune way. His writing is cool – his novel Open City is about a guy who walks and thinks and is not at all boring, and his journalism is essential. But it’s his ongoing creative use of Twitter, clever and poetic, is perhaps coolest of all. His now-finished ‘small fates’ project (based on the French newspaper tradition of publishing ‘fait divers’) consistently stood out amongst the muck of boring, moany, inward-looking tweets,  and his mini Twitter essays say more on their topic than entire books. Cole is a humanitarian and a writer at the same time; the boundaries between these two overlap to such an extent that the boundary ceases to exist. Come and listen to him talk with Australia’s expert on Twitter, Sam Twyford-Moore.

Teju Cole is also appearing at EWWC: The Future Of The Novel on Friday August 23 @ Fed Square.

Katie Parrish, Jo Waiter and Lucy Knisley Make Rad Comics; Are Also Women

Draw Like A Girl: Saturday August 24, 1pm @ Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia — tickets here.

Graphic narratives (loosely grouped as ‘comics’) are experiencing a resurgence, if by ‘experiencing a resurgence’ you mean they’re as excellent as they’ve always been, and that people have liked them in the past and like them now, too. Parrish, Waiter and Knisley — three really exceptional producers of comics — write and draw work that’s pretty different in style, content and tone, and they are also three pretty different women. But perhaps there’s something interesting to be discussed about The Female Gaze in respect to comics — and if anyone’s going to talk about that, it’s these three.


Keynote — Tavi’s World: Friday August 23, 6pm @ Athenaeum Theatre — tickets here


The question that’s been on everyone’s (read: my) mind and lips the past week or two, since the announcement that Tavi Gevinson is coming to Australia, has been: ‘What is a Tavi?’ I get lots of answers, like “She’s the eleven-now-seventeen-year-old that started Rookie Magazine,” or “She’s a fashion blogger and feminist who is just the most marvellous example to other young people”, or “OHMYGOD TAVIIIIIII HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO SHE IS WHUUUUUUTT HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING UNDER A DWEEB-ROCK OR SOMETHING TAVIIIIIII”.

Suffice to say that I now know who Tavi is as a person, but I’m still no closer to knowing what she is and, more importantly, why adults turn into children around a child who acts like an adult. Maybe I’ll find out when me and Tavi get to hang out at her under-20s event, me in my SFX make-up that transforms me back into a teenager, and her in her cool DIY couture.

Tavi Gevinson is also appearing at Rookie Day on Saturday August 24 @ State Library of Victoria; a collection of talks from inspiring types, for under 20s only.

Seriously you guys, it’s the London Review of Books FFS

Inside The London Review Of Books: Friday August 30, 6pm @ Deakin Edge, Fed Square — tickets here

London is a serious city (just ask William Blake) and books are a serious pursuit for serious people, seriously. But to be serious for a second: the LRB is one of the last bastions of ruminative, non-advertorial, literary consideration of books, ideas and societal movements. Offering up something that is very difficult to find these days — the long and essayistic book review — the LRB publishes the best contemporary writers and thinkers, who are given space to wax lyrical about their peers. Braving the six month journey to Melbourne on their glorious although admittedly fetid galley, the LRB crew of editor Mary-Kay Wilmerspublisher Nicholas Spice and contributors Jeremy Harding and Jacqueline Rose are coming to tuck in your shirts and straighten your ties.

Like A Moth To A Flame, Is You To The Moth

Keynote — The Moth Mainstage: Thursday August 22, 9.30pm @ Melbourne Town Hall — tickets here

Computers and smartphones and anything with a screen is inherently evil and will one day rise up and kill you, or something, so perhaps you should get out more and actually interact with real people and listen to the stories they have to tell, right? (Because the internet is entirely made up of robots and no one tells stories online; it’s all just porn and the Westboro Facebook Church.) What am I going on about? You tell me, or better still, you don’t tell me, but you come along with me to this keynote event with live storytelling crackerjacks The Moth, where host Ophira Eisenberg and Magda Szubanski will present a raft of talent who will tell their tales, and make us chuckle and choke up and feel alive.

Junot Diaz Loves You?

In Conversation — Junot Diaz: Saturday August 24, 11.30am @ Deakin Edge, Fed Square — tickets here

Junot Diaz

A friend of mine keeps having sex dreams about Junot Diaz, which is fine of course because you can do things in dreams and then wake up and get on with the day-to-day without having to worry if Junot is going to become boring to you, or if he’s going to kind-of move into your bedroom because his place is a hovel, or if he’s going to ask you to try that thing that all guys eventually want to try when you’ve let them hang around long enough.

I have enough faith in my friend that she wouldn’t attempt to make real-life Junot into her dream Junot, which is lucky because he’s coming to the Melbourne and, as far as I know, he isn’t wanton with his affections. But another part of me wants to encourage her to have a run at Junot, because after all he’s a certified ‘Genius’, and he’s won a Pulitzer Prize, and his latest collection of stories is titled This Is How You Lose Her, and if I know my friend, she isn’t one to get lost easily, if you know what I mean.

Laurent Binet Is Better Than You

In Conversation — Laurent Binet — Friday August 23, 10am @ ACMI Cinema 1 — tickets here

Imagine being a luminary of French literature and a totally arresting babe. You can’t, of course, because even our imaginations have limits. But don’t dwell on your shortcomings – come instead to one of Laurent Binet’s events, either the one in English (and feel acutely jealous of Binet’s accent) or the one in French (and feel acutely stupid that you went to an event in a language you don’t understand). He’ll be talking about his exceptional book historical nonfiction-ish novel HHhH and also about his writing on the French presidential campaign. Hey, perhaps you can pre-prepare an erudite and witty question and then ask it to Binet in the Q&A at the end of the session, and feel for a second what he must feel like all day, every day.

Laurent Binet is doing the whole thing again but in French at 2.30pm that same afternoon. He is also talking about the Euro on Saturday August 24, and European writing on Sunday August 25.

Music Critters-ism

What Difference Does It Make?: Friday August 30, 4pm @ Deakin Edge, Fed Square — tickets here

Elmo Keep, a person known for calling bullshit on the bullshitters (she’s done it here on Junkee in glorious fashion) is someone who knows about music criticism, and who cares what happens to it in the future. She’ll be sharing a stage with Chris Ruen (New York music critic) and Andrew Mueller (London music critic), and together they’ll be talking about the state and future of the genre, and how it will possibly ever survive.

Tao Lin Is Totally Going To Ask You For Drugs If You Try To Be His Friend 

Generation Now with Tao Lin, Bethanie Blanchard, Emmett Stinson: Saturday August 31, 1pm @ ACMI Studio 1 — tickets here


Tao Lin is an intelligent person who writes largely in a style that either annoys the shit out of you, or you effing love. His characters are detached, his narrative voice is indifferent, and his work is full of the most contemporary references, consumables and vernacular. He writes while on heaps of drugs, he eats mostly organic food, and he draws art in rudimentary computer Paint programs. I’m looking forward to this event because Emmett Stinson is hosting it and he doesn’t take any bullshit (and if anything goes down, he’s definitely stashing a blade in that beard) — and also I’m wondering if a jetlagged Tao Lin might even actually float away with aloofness. This event is ‘Proudly supported by VICE’, which is like your older brother proudly supporting your attempt to double-backflip off the roof into the pool after you’ve been drinking Beam & Coke tinnies all afternoon.

The Lifted Brow’s Give-Us-Money-And-We’ll-Give-You-Fun Party

Launch — The Lifted Brow: Sunday September 1, 5.30pm @ The Toff In Town — tickets here

Full disclosure: I edit The Lifted Brow — but I only do so because it’s far and away the best thing in the world. Seeing as the blurb text we provided MWF about what the shit we are doing is so excellent, I’m not going to tweak it an iota, so here it is: “Because making a magazine is just the easiest, The Lifted Brow crew is looking to up the stress. But how to do? By making a magazine from scratch, on-site, in 10 days, at the MWF, paid for entirely by crowdfunding! And what better to show the world how relaxxxxxxed the Brow team is than a mid-production party? Join the TLB team as they put the ‘fun’ and the ‘sing’ and perhaps even the ‘raisin’ back into ‘fundraising’ at the MWF Festival Hub. Check out the issue-in-progress, throw some clams/moola/$$$ into the Pozible campaign bucket, and dance your way into our hearts to music from the Hip Hop Hotties DJs. C’arn, it’ll be terrific as.”

Melbourne Writers Festival runs from August 22 — September 1; for the full program, click here.

Sam Cooney is a writer whose fiction, essays and journalism have been published in literary journals, magazines, anthologies and websites in Australia and overseas. He is the editor and publisher of The Lifted Brow, and he tweets from @samuelcooney and @theliftedbrow.