Adelaide Writers Week is an institution in this city. It is the largest celebration of literature in Adelaide. Every year authors and readers are brought together for six glorious days of thrilling panels and discussions, Q & A’s and signings, with writers from a wide range of genres, both locally and internationally. This year I was lucky enough to get a first-hand look of what it really takes to run such an event, working as an assistant.
My job comprised of two main tasks; creating the four-hundred odd signs for the Book Tent, where each guest and chairperson had their books for sale, and driving our guests to and from the airport. Both jobs presented different challenges and benefits. While the sign making was tedious at times (especially when it came to laminating all 400-odd signs one page at a time), I was able to develop a real sense of appreciation for booksellers and the difficulties they face in managing such a complex list of stock. And while driving, I learned just how difficult it can be to park an 8-seater Kia Carnival in the tiny Adelaide Airport parking lot. On the upside I got a solid 20 minutes of conversation with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met, more if we were stuck in traffic.
But all of this pales in comparison to the hard and complex work performed by the rest of my team. Like many things in life, it takes a whole lot of effort to make something look so seamless. In all my years attending Adelaide Writers Week as a reader, I never quite appreciated just what went into putting on such an amazing event. It takes over six months to plan, to contact and organise the extensive list of guest authors and the chairs, to program the various panels to fill out the six days, and to arrange transport, accommodation and other details for each of these people. This year we were host to around 84 artists, some of who were travelling with friends or partners, just to illustrate just how extensive this can be. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the physical set up of the event, the stages, the book and food tents, and the overall running of the festival. Every element is carefully planned and fine-tuned down to the slightest detail, and the end result is, as a good number of people I personally spoke to about it attested, one of the best writers festivals in the country.
Adelaide Writers Week stands apart for being one of the largest non-ticketed festivals in the country. While there are certainly larger festivals in other states, Adelaide succeeds in being completely free for attendees. And having outdoor stages in the beautiful Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens means we are highly accessible for anyone to simply wander down and take a seat. Being a free event also encourages attendees to spend big in the Book Tent. And as a festival to promote writers and books, this is highly advantageous.
This event is also an important opportunity for readers to meet their heroes. After each panel, the guest authors sit at signing tables for long lines of eager fans hoping to get up and close to the people they admire. While author-meet events exist at Supanova and Comic Con – both rather expensive events which usually only host a small roster of authors – and while authors do travel down our way on occasion when touring a new book, some of these writers have never before been to Adelaide. This year one of the biggest headliners was Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisionwood Bible and other crime classics. If you’ve never heard of her, just ask your mother. Her audience for her sole panel spilled well out across the gardens, as over a thousand fans gathered just to hear her speak. And as this may well be the US author’s only tour of Australia, it was well worth the effort for those who did appear in droves to see her.
The real advantage to Writers Week, as an emerging writer, is inspiration. There’s just something about hearing other writers talk about their craft that makes you want to get up and work on your own project. And above all, these sessions banish the illusions that writing is some sort of magic only certain people can achieve. Every successful author is simply a writer who did not quit. Yes there’s also a measure of luck finding the right representation and publisher to help excel them into the spotlight, but at it’s heart writing is about hard work and perseverance. And seeing these authors, these ordinary people, demystify the process, is the most inspiring part of it all.
Adelaide needs Writers Week. Our writing community may be small compared to those in Melbourne or Sydney, but we’re just as passionate. And festivals like this are able to stand their own on the national stage because of our passion and patronage of the arts. This year was one of our biggest – especially in terms of coffee sales, as our director Laura Kroetsch kept exclaiming – and we’re not the only ones. With the Fringe Festival reaching record ticket sales, and the success of Adelaide Festival, our growing commitment to the arts is also growing our economy and our tourist industry. And in light of the recent elections, where we are now led by a party with little to no consideration for our industry, it’s more important than ever to turn out for the Arts and show just how vital these festivals are to our state and our communities. And with events like Writers Week being completely free to attend, we’re breaking down the class barriers to these cultural institutions. Books are for everyone, after all, and despite what any scaremongering mainstream media articles may have suggested, in Adelaide access to writers and their work will always be free at this festival.
Adelaide Writers Week truly is the highlight of my year, and if you missed out this time, I hope you’ll join us next year. It’s only going to get bigger and better.
Words by Simone Corletto (@SimCorWrites).