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Sydney writers' festival, 2009.

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The Sydney Writers' Festival was held this year between 18 and 24 May. Based at Pier 4/5 and at the Sydney Theatre, in the gorgeous surrounds of rainy Walsh Bay, this was not a hardship post.

The festival presented a busy and varied program, with many sessions filled to capacity. Some venues broadcasted sessions outside, which was handy for catching parts of sessions between others or listening to sessions that had filled up. Some of the most popular international speakers included:

* Germaine Greer

* the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

* Christian Lander, creator of the Stuff White People Like blog and book

* Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself, for which competition to secure a copy practically came to blows in the festival bookshop.

Most speakers were local and many of them have donated material to the National Library of Australia's Manuscripts Collection. With four or five session running concurrently, I focused on attending those featuring historians and biographers. Recurring historical themes included:

* communicating history

* biography

* memoir

* investigative journalism

* the crossover between fiction and history

* the middle ground between family history and 'big picture' history.

Writers who discussed the joys of archival research included Jill Roe, Evelyn Juers, Ann McCarthy, Ann Curthoys and Paul Ham. Kristen and David Williamson more or less spoke about the opposite, in looking at David's papers in the Library's Manuscripts Collection, where he assisted Kristen's research (as 'the assistant of my own execution') for her biography David Williamson: Behind the Scenes.

Babette Smith argued that family historians are on the cutting edge of historical research because convict history is out of fashion with academics. She also criticised the use of research assistants, saying that a writer needs to go to the documents.

Some historians were concerned with how to communicate history and develop historical literacy among students. Ann McCarthy and Ann Curthoys made a case for historians getting more involved in film and television, which communicate the emotional and moral heart of history to mass audiences.

Overall the festival offered a valuable opportunity to hear what issues are preoccupying writers, historians and audiences, and to consider avenues for research services and collecting.

Podcasts of some sessions are available on the Sydney Writers' Festival website. http://www.swf.org.au/podcasts-2009/

Beth Lonergan, Archivist, Manuscripts Collection
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Author:Lonergan, Beth
Publication:National Library of Australia Gateways
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Words:386
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