I enjoyed lurking at MWF this time around - highlights included David Prater's launch and Paul Hardacre's interview with Tom Shapcott, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida's terrific session with Louise Swinn, who asked some excellent questions, Victoria Glendinning talking to Sophie Cunningham about Leonard Woolf, the new media presentations at ACMI from the Story of the Future and LAMP labs, and Alexis Wright and Tony Birch discussing the genesis and publication of her prize-winning, seminal work Carpentaria. I also caught Les Murray, at a very convivial session where all listeners were content to hear him read poem after poem, only briefly stopping for a few questions before they asked him to 'read some more - read the Weeping Man'. (You can hear it there, too.) I was going to blog Eggers and Vida, but Ariel has done a much better job, and you can catch that meaty slice of the conference here.
I wasn't the only punter surprised at the size of the venue allocated to Wright's session - others remarked that a bigger crowd could easily have been accommodated elsewhere. Only 100 odd people can fit into the Tower theatre. This should have been a free session, in the Beckett. At least there was a good long signing session afterwards, as those 100 people obviously had plenty to say to this passionate and remarkable writer, storyteller and advocate.
Carpentaria will be released in the UK next year. This book is not just on the crest of the world literature wave, it is connecting the very lifeblood of our country to it, adding an ostinato to that movement that is sublime and compelling. It will be translated into many languages and read and studied for a very long time. So don't miss out. You have been told.
This festival largely had a good strong vibe, although as Lisa Dempster from Locus Press has pointed out in her constructive and comprehensive list of suggestions here, the prices still put it out of the reach of younger people and students. I get a bit sick of seeing hordes of middle-class couples, walking in a ring, myself - I don't have anything against them, it's great that people are coming with partners and friends of course, but it would be nice to see people from further afield than Camberwell occasionally.
Ian Syson has put it nicely in another context in a review in Saturday's Age, quoting a fictional character from Mont Albert saying that 'Melbourne is the city whose east I know better than its north or west'. Syson adds in a gritted dentural parenthesis that ' if there's a better 14 word critique of the Australian publishing industry than the one able to be inferred here, I am yet to read it.'
That's only going to change for Victoria's festival when the Brumby government comes good with the $250,000 needed to bring MWF's funding up to the level of the Sydney outing, and then Rosemary Cameron can continue the good job she has started of ramping up the diversity of her programming. All those devirginated middle class ladies should have enjoyed themselves at Second Life, when they were over the strangeness - I am looking forward to checking with Jeff Sparrow how that session went, having felt a bit of biblio-tech anxiety over the fact that it was held in a tent.