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May 18, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Lisa Dempster, Emerging Writers’ Festival (interview)

Published May 2011 at Beat magazine

In between lectures and spruiking the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF), festival director Lisa Dempster discusses why she loves this year’s offerings just so gosh darn much.

“Three years ago we were a three-day festival, and we’re now an eleven-day festival and we run interstate events.” She says. “But the core of the festival is our sense of community. It’s really breaking down the barriers between the writers and the audience.”

The big show flying the banner for the festival’s “new audience development” stream is Slide Night, where selected writers are asked to tell travel stories using 20 slides in 20 seconds. Then there’s Dirty Words, a “sexy burlesque showcase” with a mix of sex, literature and cocktails, and an In The Pub event at the Tote, a part-panel and part-performance event.

While Dempster is eager to mix as many elements of the writing and publishing industry together for the festival, she keeps her key focus in mind. “We really try to create opportunities for writers and for people who are working in the literary industry to meet each other and have a chat about what it’s like.”

The popularity of the festival speaks for itself. “We have 175 writers on board so far, and over 50 events happening over 11 days at various venues across Melbourne. We also run various events online and on Twitter. So programming-wise it’s a pretty epic job, but as far as being a festival director goes, it’s probably the most fun thing…you go out there, you see all these amazing writers and you find all these people who are doing pretty great work. To be able to bring them into the festival so other people can discover them is the best part of what I do.”

Around 25 per cent of the writers who form part of the panels come from the open panellist callout, a unique feature of the EWF. “The other 75% [of the writers] come through me or the programming advisory committee of the festival. It’s really about keeping on top of what’s out there. I go to a lot of performances night, I go to book launches, I go to other writer’s festivals, I’m on Twitter and I read blogs, and I basically try to keep up with what’s happening. It’s one of my favourite things when I get to introduce someone to the festival that I’ve discovered that, perhaps, the literary community hasn’t discovered yet. And you know, that kind of work…it’s my favourite part of the job!”

Having been invited to attend the British Council Bookcase conference last year as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Dempster got a first-hand look-in on how the biggest literary festival in the world operates. “The great thing about that was twofold, I guess; one was that I got to meet all these amazing people who work in similar positions to me, running festivals or venues, who program artists…the other thing was getting to see behind the scenes at the Edinburgh international book festival…it’s the biggest literary festival in the world and, in my opinion, it’s the best run, it’s so well organised…getting to see a behind the scenes look at the scale and the scope and the organisation of the Edinburgh International book festival was fantastic and I came back to Australia brimming with ideas.”

But before you dash off to Edinburgh for literary glory, Dempster quickly points out the benefits of being a writer in Australia. “Emerging writers in Britain feel much less connected to the industry than they do here in Australia. I think that has a lot to do with size, as well, because if you’re living in Melbourne and you start going to a few book launches and you’ve been to a few writers’ festivals, you end up meeting the people who are working in the industry…It’s much harder for emerging British writers to get a foothold in the industry.”

And since Dempster started at the EWF as an attendee just five years ago, she’s a big advocate of saying yes to new things: “I’m a big advocate for ‘get it out there’, because the more things you go to and the more people you meet…just means more opportunities arise.”


One Comment

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  1. melbourniangirl / May 19 2011 9:36 AM

    Great interview!! I love that Australia has such a strong writers industry.

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