Oct 26, 2012

The three women ruling the Oz writers’ festival circuit

Three women -- Lisa Dempster, Kate Eltham and Jemma Birrell -- now lead Australia's three largest events for writing and literature. Crikey profiles the trio shaking up the writers' festival circuit.

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

A new chapter has begun at Australia’s biggest writers’ festivals, written by a new generation of female thinkers. In the last three weeks the trio of Lisa Dempster, Kate Eltham and Jemma Birrell have all begun their posts as the respective directors of the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney writers’ festivals. Who are these young women, all in their 30s and bringing digital and international perspectives to shake up the book-fests?

Lisa Dempster celebrated her 33rd birthday on Monday, the same day she officially took over the reigns as director of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. She comes to the gig after three months in Bali on an Asialink residency, working with the programming department at the highly-regarded (what author wouldn’t want to combine work with a tropical holiday?) Ubud Writers’ & Readers’ Festival.

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6 thoughts on “The three women ruling the Oz writers’ festival circuit

  1. Vincent Burke

    Crikey all too often reflects the east coast myopia of the media on which it comments. How could Amber Jamieson write about the female role in writers’ festivals without mentioning that Adelaide’s Writers Week has been run by females for 20 years, and to casually bracket Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne as the “largest” without objective quantification simply confirms how media people stick to their own backyard, even on Crikey.

  2. Rania Ghandour

    Agree, Vincent. If Crikey had not cut WA off the map entirely this morning (Ben Eltham’s arts funding story) they might know Perth has the excellent Perth Writers Festival which has grown in stature under the sure curatorial hand of Katherine Dorrington. At 33, she is not in her first year – in fact it’s her seventh. A look at writers’ festivals in Australia with no mention of her is a narrow look indeed.

  3. Amber Jamieson

    Hello everyone,

    Just want to point out that it’s not an east-coast bias, it’s a news bias. This article came about because all three – who by chance happen to also be young and female – have all taken up their roles in the last 3 weeks. It’s rare – very rare – that all three similar roles get new people with similar traits starting at the exact same time. Hence why I wanted to write about them.

    I actually contacted Adelaide and spoke to someone about Laura, but she’s been in the role 18 months already so it didn’t seem relevant.

    And regarding the state map for Eltham’s story (because I created it!) hat was about fitting the most states possible in a set size image. WA is just too big!

  4. Patrick Brosnan

    What the hell is a writer’s festival for anyway? It just looks like a forum for writers and publishers to spruik their product, in which case just call it an expo. I suspect, however, that the target demographic find this description a little to low brow. My vision of a writers festival audience consists of superannuated middle level public servants/professionals who are a bit uncomfortable getting too far off the beaten track and who want to see what Ramona Coval really looks like.

  5. Stephen

    I think we can safely expect them to continue to more or less ignore the best of American fiction and letters.

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