marcus westbury

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National Young Writers Festival (1998, 1999)

January 25th, 2008 by marcus

writers festival 1998 (front)

The first National Young Writers Festival was designed to be a writers’ festival with a different dynamic and value set. It aimed to value writing and publishing outside the literary mainstream of the capital city literature festivals. The festival had a strong emphasis of zine makers, self publishers, troublemakers and web publishers (long before anyone coined the term bloggers). It also had a healthy dose of critical non-fiction and literary outsiders.

The festival’s rather conservative and boring name was chosen because it was the most conservative and boring name I could think of for what was always intended to be a very non-conservative events. The festival was organised on about $6,000 scrounged from the NSW Ministry for the Arts for “workshops” and $10,000 from the Australia Council that was technically supposed to be spent on a web site (that never really eventuated).

Some quotes from the time rediscovered in my digging around:

“The National Young Writers Festival is the Dean Martin of Australian literary festivals — savvy, elegant, hip and extremely well lubricated.”
| Catherine Lumby

“when the organisers of the other, more staid festivals finally realise what happened in Newcastle last year, it will change the face of these sorts of events throughout Australia.”
| Linda Jaivin

“fun, challenging, different, unexpected and smart”
| Sophie Cunningham

“I had such a top time at that I started to bleed from the eyeballs. The panels were cool, the audience really clued in and I liked the way so much of it seemed to happen in pubs. Or was that just me?”
| John Birmingham

“if you have a sneaking suspicion that there is actually some interesting creative stuff going on somewhere, then look no further than Newcastle and the young writer’s festival!”
| Matthew Arnison

“Don’t think, just go!”
| Matthew Reilly

“full of collaborative ideas, productive argument and energy. It’s unique in Australia.”
| Bernard Cohen

“at lit fests i usually sit near the door so i can exit as soon as the often excrutiating question time starts, but audience interaction at the NYWF went far beyond the usual “do you work with pencil or pc?” Audiences were fearless in that they weren’t averse to a little confrontation”
| Dallas McMaugh, The Australia Council

“I’ll definitely haul buns there again this year for a couple of days, and bring some more people with me.”
| Susan Burchill, Channel V

“The best little writer’s festival on the continent.”
| McKenzie Wark

“the best writer’s festival held in Australia… There’s just no sign of that syndrome you get at the mainstream festivals, where you get the feeling writers are merely going through the motions, saying the same things they’ve said dozens of times before. At Newcastle the audiences simply won’t put up with it.”
| Mark Davis

A decade later and the National Young Writers Festival is still going strong. It is still plucky, provocative, under-funded and yet it has somehow evolved into what some might actually call an institution. The festival will be celebrating it’s tenth birthday in 2008 and it has spawned the much larger multi headed media monster that it is This Is Not Art. It remains my favourite weekend of the year.

I recently dredged up an old promotional list of participants that included KATHY BAIL, ELISA BERG, MELITA BERNDT, JAMES BRADLEY, BERNARD COHEN, ROSIE CROSS, SOPHIE CUNNINGHAM, JANE CURTIS, HELEN DARVILE, MARK DAVIS, MILISSA DEITZ, CRAIG GARRETT, SEAN HEALY, DEAN KILEY, CATHARINE LUMBY, MARDI McCONNOCHIE, MARK MORDUE, MATTHEW THOMPSON and McKENZIE WARK. You can use google to find out what those people are all doing now or have a look at this old pre-promotional list of participants to find out what they were all doing then.

Also, you can visit The National Young Writers Festival web site for more information about what it became when it grew up.

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