Category Archives: Experiences

Ambedkar and the savarna classroom



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Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

[Note: This post is a result of several discussions with friends and acquaintances on the recent publication of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘Annhiliation of Caste’, by the publisher Navayana, with an introduction titled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ by Arundhati Roy. Since then, based on the criticism of Brahminical hegemony it has evoked from Dalit sources, several academics, journalists and commentators have criticized the objections as being ‘essentialist’ and ‘reductive’. Read Dalit Camera’s ‘Open Letter to Arundhati Roy’ and ‘Arundhati Roy replies to Dalit Camera’, for some context, and below those posts on Round Table India, do read every single post by critics contributing to the debate around the introduction and what it represents.

This post is my own attempt to sort through the issues with my experience in academia, and to explain why I agree with those in Roundtable India on the appropriation of Ambedkar’s work and legacy.]

… I cursed another good hot curse.
The university buildings shuddered and sank waist-deep.
All at once, scholars began doing research
into what makes people angry.

– Keshav Meshram, ‘One day I cursed that mother-fucker God’, (trans. by Jayant Karve, Eleanor Zelliot with Pam Espeland)

Read the rest of this entry

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Day 5


There is a moment in Vahid Mousaian’s 2011 film Golchehreh when the central character Ashraf Khan, who owns a cinema theatre in early 90s Afghanistan, is informed that the Najibullah Communist-led government has fallen and the Taliban have control of the city. Ashraf Khan has struggled to keep his cinema alive in the early part of the film, and the news that the increasing opposition by Taliban mullahs will now ban anything cultural etches a profound sadness on his face, along with worry and angst.

Much of that sentiment was echoed at 4 pm in JLF’s central lawn yesterday when festival organisers had to announce that a video link by Rushdie would not go through as planned, because the increasing protests by orthodox Muslims across India had escalated to the point that there were Muslims in the audience who were threatening violence if the video conference was aired. There were rumours also that a large crowd of Muslim protestors was heading towards the venue to create problems. The organisers called it an ‘idiotic situation’, and that they were ‘pushed against the wall’, but made a call to put the safety of attendees first. The responses have been covered over numerous TV channels, including the blistering impromptu panel discussion by Tehelka editors and public figures that included Salim Engineer, secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami explain his side of the protest. For the first time in my life, I started to look around me and actually spot the Muslim faces in the audience, and wonder if a riot would break out any moment. This was bad, we realised, not only, because of free speech, but because we were looking at Muslims as potential rabble-rousers, not as spectators. Couldn’t it have been possible that several Muslims were here to view the conference, to hear what Rushdie had to say? Read the rest of this entry

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Day 4


Many sessions have been cancelled or rehashed due to the early exit of the 4 controversial authors. Annie Proulx couldn’t make it due to bad weather in Canada. This only makes my ‘avoid the big names’ theory more valid.

Anyway, Day 4 has been an up and down sorta day.

To start off, we had the Bollywood-focus session with Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi, Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj titled Kahaani Kise Kehte Hain: Script, Story, Screenplay. It seems like crowds from Delhi had arrived only for this one session. A catfight erupted in the row in front of us regarding seats, and had to be settled by security staff. And then the MC Catriona introduced the session totally butchering the Hindi title to much laughter from the audience. I have a theory about the use of British Council people introducing sessions that I will elaborate on a bit later. Read the rest of this entry

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Day 3


And the drama only continues around JLF.

First, let me link to a couple of statements surrounding the Satanic Verses issue, if you haven’t already read about the whole thing through Twitter.

Hari Kunzru’s statement on the events:

William Dalrymple’s statement on how things unfolded:

I’ve already said much of how I felt in yesterday’s post, but this quote by Dalrymple is quite telling, “We can support free speech right up to the point that they break the law.” Really, should anyone have to point out the fallacy of that statement? Either free speech IS the law, or it isn’t. Read the rest of this entry

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Day 2


When your day starts with Shabnam Virmani singing Kabir with a tambura and owning the otherwise empty stage, life feels pretty good. I have been a fangirl of Shabnam’s since I saw The Kabir Projects’s documentary Chalo Hamara Des early last year, and getting to see her and hear her at the festival has been a joy.

The morning session on Day 2 was on Creativity, Censorship & Dissent. Ironic I know, considering the series of events yesterday regarding Rushdie. The speakers on this panel were a numerous bunch, moderated by Tehelka’s Shoma Chaudhury. I’ve been dissatisfied with the quality of moderators JLF has been selecting – they all seem unprepared, nervous, unable to relate to the speakers and generally unimpressive. Shoma Chaudhury in particular made a grave faux pas in introducing one of the speakers in this session, saying poet Cheran was from Tamil Nadu, when in fact, he’s a Sri Lankan Tamil exiled and living in Canada. I was even more appalled when Cheran gently corrected her and she didn’t even apologise or acknowledge the enormity of her error. Are these moderators selected on the spot and not given any background material? Are they not supposed to have read at least some of the speakers they are dealing with? And then there is the tendency to go into lengthy introduction regarding the topic – Shoma went on to talk about the ‘profound purpose of art’ and how it cannot exist as a ‘supermarket of liberal sensibilities’ and when she kept going for ten whole minutes, I started getting frustrated. There are 5 specific writers on stage meant to be talking about their experiences with censorship, and instead we are listening to Tehelka’s editor talk on dissent. This was all the more problematic when at the end we ran out of time and could not hear the speakers respond to anything more than 2 questions. In addition, when a cheeky audience member mentioned that censorship talk was rubbish when a bad poet like Sibal was a guest, Shoma tried to defend Sibal as a choice of speaker. Now Sibal has been an idiot, we know, but defenders of Sibal’s idiotic poetry deserve to be called bigger idiots, no? But then, I doubt Shoma has actually read his work either, she seems consistently clueless. Okay, okay, I’ll stop my rant and come back to the speakers. Read the rest of this entry

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Day 1


I’ve been mostly quiet on this blog for more than a year now because I’ve found it quite hard to maintain consistent flow with reading. Combined with the fact that I’ve moved countries, it wasn’t easy finding enough inspiration to blog, but with some determination, I made it JLF 2012 to find out for myself what the literary scene in India is like, and I’m blogging about it so I can ruminate a bit about some of the stuff going on.

First, Salman Rushdie is officially not attending because of security concerns, so that’s one question answered. It’s disappointing because I’ve missed Salman Rushdie on another occasion at Melbourne Writers’ Festival too. It is however not surprising, considering India’s current political climate. It’s enervating though that several writers took to reading The Satanic Verses on stage at a session. Bravo, Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi. Read the rest of this entry

Melbourne Writers’ Festival – Pt. 2


Okay, as usual a bit late with this round-up, but couldn’t let it slide.

I didn’t end up at any mid-week sessions mostly because of the Schools Program (which I hope Melbourne’s schoolkids never take for granted — my school back home didn’t even let us select our own books at the little library, while these kids get to listen to their favourite authors at a Writers’ Festival), but also because I did work in between.

So, the session that kicked off the rest of my Festival weekend was the session Writers, Readers and Dali. I had probably blown this session up more in my head than I should have, so it felt oddly flat. A bunch of us met at the National Gallery of Victoria’s plush Members’ room, greeted with champagne and an array of Australian art displayed on their walls. And the talk commenced with NGV curators talking about Australian art, and the Dalí exhibition currently on display till October. [I truly hope to write another blog post on the Liquid Desire exhibition — Dalí has always been one of my favourite artists, and this gallery exhibit has been intellectually riveting and a personally moving experience for me.] The session was invaluable in guiding me to more of Dalí’s writings — 3 of his autobiographies (oh yes, the man took himself seriously), a novel Hidden Faces and a sort of guide to artists called 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship. The last seems to be a bombastic and unbelievable elaboration of how, in order to be a true deliverer of the artistic muse, the artist must be born in Spain and have the first name Salvador. 😐 I do want to get my hands on a copy of all of these books though. Oh, when will I win the lottery?

The next session I attended was a regular Writers’ Festival kind with writers talking on their characters, called On the Edge. Some of the points raised were interesting, but the show-stealer was clearly Hitomi Kanehara whose recent novel Autofiction has garnered a lot of interest by the Japanese media for combining autobiography with fiction, taking the confessional memoir to a new level. Kanehara is first, just fascinating to look at. My first thought was “Ohmygod, she is skinny”, which I then thought was explained when she mentioned she had decided at a certain point to take on an eating disorder to portray her character more efficiently. And after, I was not sure it was an explanation at all. She also seemed surprised everytime someone wanted to ask her a question, which I found endearing — she had to communicate with an interpreter  the whole time, so the surprise may just have been natural. But there was just something very… still about her personality that made her interesting to watch. As I am normally a twitchy person, it may just have been curiosity. But Autofiction and Kanehara’s other fiction seem have a strong influence of Murakami in them, which makes me cautious, as I don’t think they are as complex. However, she’d definitely be one writer to keep an eye out for.

Next session — Put Your Hands All Over My Body. Erotica has become a recent interest of mine –  a friend of mine has an enthusiasm for Nin’s Delta of Venus that got me into reading more of the kind, and I have to admit, I am hooked. And boy, was I glad this session was at the Writers’ Fest, because the speakers made it worth my while. Apart from pointing me to the ways of a number of erotic writers I hadn’t yet heard of, the discussion raised a lot of questions I wanted answers to — for instance, did the speakers think there was any difference between pornography and erotica? Did women soften erotica (as claimed by the recent British magazine editor of Erotic Review, which you can find here)? Does sex for women have an association to guilt, which is why it makes for popular reading? The answers were diverse and emphatic. Linda Jaivin who sounds as bold as she looks (she has a head of bright red hair) believed there was no difference between porn and erotica, and the definitions seemed to revolve around the medium. She also believed women could be as sexual as men, and definitely capable of guilt-free sex. Nikki Gemmell was obviously the most reserved — she had the standard belief that erotica was more ‘tender’ and that women did tend to go beyond the sex more. Her cringe-worthy “Sex can be spiritual, transcendent” viewpoint clashed markedly with Krissy Kneen who responded with her belief that a complete human connection to another person is impossible — and she wasn’t being depressing, just realistic from her own experiences (I agree!). Krissy Kneen was one of the best finds of the festival, for me. More soft-spoken and very self-assured somehow, she endorsed Jaivin’s understanding of erotica. Kneen’s sex-drenched memoir Affection just came out, and I was queueing up with everyone else to get my copy signed. Kneen has a way with words that make your mind feel like it’s another sensory organ; it is quite delightful. For a fun evening, check out her blog FuriousVaginas.

The next day was a single session on Reading Essayistically, a philosophy talk that expounded on the ethics of reading in an open-ended way. I liked this session — Michelle Boulous Walker emphasised the idea that reading should orient readers (who become philosophers) in a horizontal way than putting him/her above it, in a vertical understanding. So there are possibilities of ethical spaces and relationships to what we read, instead of a finality of knowledge. And it prepares us to return to the text again and again, understanding it in a different way each time. A lot of the argument made sense to me, and particularly when an audience member raised the question of how universities regard essays, as sides that students take and formulate convincing arguments for. And Walker agreed that instead of open-ended ruminations, universities seemed to instituionalise knowledge. Open-ended reading however, was the way for readers even without an academic reading to become part of the processof knowledge, and that is where academic discourse should be heading. Walker quoted liberally from a number of philosophers I was unfamiliar with — Theodor Adorno, Emmanuel Levinas, Luce Irigaray, Simone Weil… I have a lot more reading to catch up on now.

The last day of the Festival saw me in two very diverse sessions – Raiding the Attic: Where do Creative Ideas Come From? and In the Name of the Father: Monotheism and Fundamentalism. Raiding the Attic had a diverse panel of artists – an installation artist, poet, writer and a visual artist. Interesting session, mainly because the intertextual nature of art was a core point of each artist, and when I asked them about the question of originality — something most journals or small publishers stress when inviting work — all were solidly i agreement that originality should never be the goal of a work of art. Sue Dodd mentioned that important ideas tend to recur, and that one must chase those ideas. All also endorsed the act of daydreaming as a form of work where ideas start to flow — always good to have an excuse. 🙂

The last session was on religion, as the name suggests, and Russell Grieg highlighted how religion has now tended to resurface because he examined it as an object of Freudian repression, and that manifested in the unconscious and would inevitably manifest itself in the public space at some point. People made the mistake of assuming that science was slowly eliminating the significance of religious phenomenon, but in reality it lurked in the collective subconscious and in times of difficulty would resurface as a defence. The session was not too bad, though I wish Grieg could have gone a little deeper in the half hour that he was allotted.

Phew! This took a while. as expected I have a pile of books yet to be read, and am significantly poorer than I had hoped. But I walked off towards my tram that evening feeling very rich intellectually. There is something of a festive atmosphere even in a Writers’ Festival, in that everyone seems so celebratory about things. It will be quite missed.

So hopefully next, I will try to post about the Dalí’s exhibition — even more hopefully, before it closes on October 4th.

And I am also peripherally involved in Deakin University’s Exposure festival, which depending on how it goes I may post on too. Ah, September feels like a slow month…

Melbourne Writers’ Festival ’09 – Pt. 1


MWF 2009

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2009 kicked off last weekend, and how! It’s been a jam-packed program, and I thought I should give a rundown of some of the excellent and some um-ah sessions I attended.

Let me say, my focus this time was less on writing sessions and more on the academic-ish ones. Maybe it’s withdrawal from not having been in uni for a while, but I had a yen to attend sessions I wouldn’t think of attending otherwise, like on theoretical physics and erotica. 😐

The highlight of the Festival so far, has been hearing Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader talk on a number of issues regarding the past, forgiveness, condemnation and reconciliation. Schlink was also a judge, so there was a strong legal element to the sessions. And of course, controversy too. The session Guilt about the Past: A Response where Schlink’s keynote speech was addressed by philosopher Raimond Gaita, and CEO of Melbourne University Publishing, Louise Adler, had a particularly high element of tension to it.

First let me say, I am a young Indian, brought up a long way (and a long time away) from mainland Europe and its history. My knowledge of World War II and the Holocaust began on a roadtrip to some obscure Indian town when I was 10 and my father, running out of his usual stock of mythological epics and fairy tales, decided history would make for an interesting narrative. The Holocaust remained with me for a long time as this other-worldly depiction of good vs evil, victims and perpetrators, the Allied and the Axis  Powers. It was years before my reading and my education directed me to an understanding of the war that was more political and less polar.

This session was therefore, illuminating. The details will take up more space than I can afford, but for now, let me say, that there were a lot of audience members of Jewish background who took on Schlink and his expressions of guilt in Germany, particularly post-war, with a lot of disgruntlement and borderline resentment. There were uncomfortable questions asked, particularly with reference to Schlink’s refusal as a German to contribute an opinion to modern Israeli politics. “We need to talk about the past. We need to talk about the Holocaust, as Germans and as Jews to reach any level of understanding,” one (Jewish, I presume) audience member declared. But Schlink refused to comment.

I can only recollect walking away from the fabulous BMW Edge auditorium with an overwhelming relief that I was neither German nor Jewish. I am not sure I have it in me to walk in the shadow of World War II for as long as I live. But there was also a niggling POV that I am still part of history, that as humanity, mass murder, genocide, and the Holocaust were all of our burdens in small ways if not big. Raimond Gaita highlighted this point when he took Hanna’s plaintive question in The Reader where she asks the judge what he would have done, and stated that the question places a false onus on humans as all being capable of evil. Clearly, he said, some people in the most extreme circumstances, during the Holocaust and the Nazi occupations, resisted evil, even when faced with horrors and death. And if some are capable, then all can be capable.

I have been avidly consuming a lot of Gaita’s writings, ever since I was introduced to his essay Justice and Hope in the collection of the Best Australian Essays for 2006. Gaita is a moral philosopher and academic, and has a perspective of good and evil from rational and humanistic points of view. I have been yearning for an opportunity to hear him speak, so when I saw his name pop up more than once in the Program, I promptly booked myself in for his other session too, called Why I read where he shared the stage with Alice Pung [The Unpolished Gem] and Steven Carroll [The Time We Have Taken].

Carroll and Pung were both remarkably honest and articulate about their literary influences, and very personal. And so was Gaita, who read an excerpt from his memoir Romulus, my Father on events in his early childhood that drew him to marvel this world as depicted in books, and at this point something curious happened to me. I got ridiculously emotional. Feeling idiotic that I now was hardly paying any attention to what Gaita was saying (thankfully, it only went on for a few more minutes, and the session wrapped up), I wondered if I could approach Gaita and thank him for his words, but certain I would babble something even more embarrassing than my state of mind, I fled.

Sitting outside painted in light and shadow, as I tried to put my chaotic thoughts into order, my friend A who lives in Missouri, called me hoping to chat. Timing can be so ironic, and I can’t remember what I said to postpone the talk. 😐

Now to some of the other sessions, that were less memorable. I attended Monash Uni’s philosophy session Searching for Civilisation by John Armstrong, with whom I seemed mostly opposed in ideology from. Armstrong talked mostly about a new definition of  ‘civilisation’ which is its best through its art and architecture (such as Renaissance Florence), and concluded that the world needed to reach that level of  ‘civilisation’ where citizens took on some form of collective responsibility for the betterment of their society. It all seems idealistic, but personally, I think the term’s usage has gone out of fashion, and I think Armstrong’s POV is simplistic in light of imperialism and developmental economics. But it was thought-provoking nonetheless.

The other philosophy session was with Dr. Dr. Neil Levy called Free Will and the Brain. Now this one was quite a doozie. Maybe it was because I was tired, or whether I was distracted or just a plain ignoramus, but ten minutes into the session I zoned out. Like out, out. I didn’t think I’d be as at sea as I was, having read enough of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and some Dennett to have some idea of the nature of the debate. The talk veered off into neuroscience and the way free will is perceived in the light of neurons and brain activity, and for the life of me, if you ask me to elaborate on more than that, I wouldn’t be able to. And my thinking, that maybe I wasn’t the only one so lost, was disproved easily enough at Q&A time, where everyone seemed to follow the discussion. 😐 So, my apologies to Dr. Levy.

Now the session I wrapped up last weekend with was the grand scientific one – Life, the Universe and Nothing with Lawrence Krauss. After the philosophy doozie, I was worried this would be another one, but thanks to Krauss’ obvious skill as a public speaker (and my engineering-nerd brother’s enthusiastic explanations to me of relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory) I could follow this one with relative (haha) ease. Krauss does know how to depress though — “We are utterly insignificant”, “Our brilliantly dynamic expanding universe will come to a standstill in a 100 million years” and “Depending on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist, every place is the centre of our universe, or no place is the centre of our universe.” 😀 If you ever get a chance to hear him speak (yes, this means you Prashanth) do so; I cannot recommend him highly enough.

I intend to leave the sessions for the second week for another post (even though I have attended two of them already and there’ll be lots to say) I’ll just wait till Sunday when I can hopefully round them up right.

In the meantime, it has been exactly one week since my brother landed  in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to start a degree in Aerospace Engineering, and I have this strange theory in my head, where I feel like because the physical distance between us has doubled (he was in India till a week ago), I am now trying to stay in touch with him twice as often to compensate. 😀 Happy tourist-ing till your term starts, Prash!

I am also dreading the end of the MWF. What else on earth can I find to keep me going after it? 😦

Still to come next week: Writers & Dalí, a sold-out rib-tickling session on erotica, Hitomi Kanehara and the psychology of her character, How to Read Everything Like You Read an Essay, Religion and whether we’re hardwired for it and raiding your attic of creativity!

If you’re looking for other insights into the Festival, please do check out official Festival bloggers Estelle Tang and the howlarious Simon Keck on the Festival Blog.

Emerging Writers’ Festival ’09



I can’t recommend this festival enough, and decided to dedicate a whole blog to explaining why!

The Emerging Writers’ Festival is now a strapping six-year old in Melbourne’s literary playground. Starting as an annual Independent Press and Zine Fair with workshops and presentations, the program extended to involve writers at early career stages from across Australia holding different sessions to inform, enlighten and entertain aspiring writers. Since then, the festival has been a sell-out and changed from a weekend event to a ten-day fest, moving across genres, types of events and venues.

I’ve only attended the festival last and this year, much to my regret; I’ve discovered that emerging writers are founts of information, and far too kind in passing along the tricks they’ve learned of the trade.  This year’s Festival program had an “Ambassadors” program, where five writers — from poetry, fiction, television, freelance writing and  playwriting — would be available during tea and lunch breaks and in between certain sessions, for answering questions one-on-one. Their approachability was both daunting and oh-so-tempting!

I was unfortunately only able to attend the Melbourne Town Hall (MTH) set of events over the last weekend of May. [Melbourne Town Hall  — for any Melbournians who may be interested — is such a cool heritage building to check out. Have a wander upstairs to Level 3 sometime and check out the historic Yarra Room with the portraits of the old fellas in curly wigs lining the walls, or Melbourne Room with a grand piano in a corner and definitely Swanston Hall with it’s fancy ceiling. Takes you to another time, and adds a very delightful character to the Festival.]

HIghlights of the program for me:

Seven Enviable Lines – The first and one of the most engaging sessions over the weekend. The Five Ambassadors shared seven secrets they wished they’d been told before they started their writing careers. Some memorable lines were poet Pooja Mittal’s emphasis on good writing being all about rationing — “Make do with less. Conserve syllables.” You hear “less is more” all the time in writing classes, but the part about syllables struck me; a lot of novelists love their big words. Keeping words tight and short like a miniskirt, sticking to simple when you can complicate is I think the best writing. Another point Pooja mentioned: when writing, act like a criminal with no shame — don’t explain yourself or the writing. And that when it becomes tempting to explain things to critics and reviewers, you’re reducing “literature” to “conjecture”. Television writer Luke Devenish stated something terrifying. He reckons 50% of your time as a writer is devoted to talking about it. 50%?!?! *feels like hiding under the bed*

Theatre writer David Milroy (best among the sites I could find. If you’re reading this, sorry, David) said a very pretty line (apart from the “fact” that bananas, dark chocolate and peanut butter are absolutely critical in stimulating the writing process): “Critique is like manure; spread it in your work and watch things grow.” 🙂 Both he and Pooja stressed on the fact that no criticism is bad criticism. Even inaccurate criticism helps strengthen your conviction about its inaccuracy, which must be a very very good thing.

Crime writer PD (Philippa Deanne) Martin mentioned in the Just Write Dammit session that when she’s faced by the blank page with a blank mind she tries different techniques, the most astounding one being that she attempts to write 10K words in one day – 10,000 words! Much of the rules are as in the article linked – no editing, no rules-of-the-craft focus, no research, no scrolling back and forth AT ALL while writing. Part of the process is to stop focusing on the details like He said, She said and simply letting the story take hold. I think most people in the room were gobsmacked. I am already telling myself I should give it a try, but of course, I have reservations on the quality of writing that will come out. But Philippa promptly answered that question by professing she very rarely went back to delete huge chunks of it; a lot of it was very much useable, quality storytelling… freaky.

The From Here to There: Blogging session had writer Christopher Currie, who in order to avoid being a stagnant writer avowed writing one blog a day for 365 days between March ’08 and ’09. The blog site is Furious Horses, and he spoke eloquently on how the blog — while not always producing groundbreaking literary masterpieces — served its purpose by getting him into the habit of writing fiction regularly, so much so that he missed it when he stopped. (Check out the hilarious section at the bottom of the page where he lists the Search keywords that “accidentally” led people to his blog :D)

Okay, by now, if I haven’t convinced you yet why a writers’ fest is THE way to go, then let me introduce you to the best part of EWF — Skills Sharing Forums. I attended only two that pertained to me, but these Forums are intended to provide people desiring to break into a new writing career – like comic writing, theatre, television, copywriting, freelancing, etc. – the opportunity to interact and get lessons from someone already living their dream. I went to the Copywriting Forum, by the amazing Bernadette Schwerdt (where I may have had an epiphany of sorts — there is serious money to be earned here folks, and sue me for being tacky and going to the Lowest Common Denominator :D) and the Freelancing Forum by the impressive Rachel Hills.  Both were seriously informative and fruitful.

Other super-impressive find — poet James Stuart, who in an effort to frame his poetry based on Mesopotamian myths such as Gilgamesh, created a website called the Homeless Gods. This is where technology meets art. Some of the verse is beautiful, as is the complexity of the site designed (I’m assuming) with Karen Chen and Guillaume Potard. Sample verse plucked from the Bellowing Bull section of the City:

With a wooden gesture the table

billows out — it’s a canvas

for the best stories you’ve ever told.

Pity no one gives a damn about you

& the violence that begat this world

— All contents © James Stuart & Karen Chen, 2007

I also want to give an honourable mention to Stu Hatton, lecturer at Deakin Uni who highlighted the benefits of mentorships, and the tremendous effect a mentor can have on your work.

Personally, the most exciting session for me was The Pitch where the founders/editors of 11 Aussie publications spoke on how they’d like to be pitched to by aspirants. It’ll take me a seriously long time to list all the publications and link them (I did want to, believe me), but if anyone is desperately interested, get in touch with me and I’ll try to oblige.


Typing out this has made me sad. 😦 I wish there could be something like this arranged every weekend; imagine how writing would flower.

So, I have made up my mind that if I am ever left with a lot of money and nothing to do during May, I will try to make it every year for EWF. Just having a few hundred writers cozied up on a grey, wintry weekend in the Town Hall creates this atmosphere of fertile evolution, like ideas sprouting shrubs on our heads. If you are any sort of writer in Melbourne trying to figure out how to write, get to an agent or a publisher/filmmaker/production house, this is where you have to be every year.

A friend told me last year that she pictured Writers’ Festivals as events where people sip their fine wines and mingle to talk about the latest bestseller to storm the market, or (God forbid), whether Twilight really is literary or not. This certainly is nothing like that.  Festivals like the Melbourne Writers’ Festival are clearly readers’ festivals, meant to be a Literature Appreciation Society of sorts. If you want to talk to the pragmatists — the ones who will tell you to never quit your day job if you want to write, who’ll tell you that you’ll be broke for a long time and that you may be rejected a few hundred times with a manuscript languishing in your bottom drawer for years before getting published — then this is the festival for you.


NOTE: If you are one of the writers I have linked in or (mis)quoted, and you either want to be de-linked, be removed or correct the quote, drop me a line and I’ll gladly oblige. 🙂

Also, any errors are mine, referred to from hastily scribbled notes.