Melbourne Writers Festival date change upsets publishers, other festivals
The decision of Melbourne Writers Festival to change dates has prompted dismay among publishers and other festivals. The festival, which was held early last month, intends to begin next year’s four-day event on May 4, which means there will be festivals at Brisbane, Margaret River and Sydney in May. And it means Melbourne will run on the same weekend as Bendigo Writers Festival.
Chief executive Vivia Hickman said the move was spearheaded by a desire to get more in sync with the publishing cycle. The festival stuck out in September because it often focused on authors and books that had been published in the previous October and November, “which is the start of the cycle”.
As the festival considered dates, she said, it became apparent that May was the only month in Melbourne without another festival, and securing the multiple venues the festival used – a huge issue – was therefore easier. She confirmed the festival would use the Town Hall and Capitol Theatre next year.
Hickman said MWF had considered the direct clash with Bendigo. “We thought it would be a great possibility to collaborate with a major regional festival. Obviously, we can offer, we hope, access to writers that maybe they wouldn’t have normally, if that’s what they’re interested in,” she said. “Resource sharing and collaboration are cornerstones of arts events.”
But Clare Wright, professor of public engagement at LaTrobe University, which partners with Bendigo Writers Festival, who is guest-curating 10 events next year, said the decision was a bombshell. She confirmed Bendigo would proceed as planned: “We’ve invited authors, there’s already people coming. All the venues are booked. These dates were announced six months ago.”
Wright, who won the Stella Prize for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, said MWF’s behaviour was appalling.
“I’m just so heartbroken for the Australian literary community. It is a close-knit bunch of writers who love nothing more than to connect with their readers and audiences,” she said.
“Forcing writers to choose between a metropolitan festival that obviously has larger reach, larger audiences and more resources, and a local regional festival which is much loved and well-supported, just puts writers in such an invidious, heartbreaking position. And that is entirely unnecessary.”