Wollongong Writers Festival: ‘Art in Isolation’


Wollongong creatives are a passionate bunch. You need only look to the poetry slams, ‘zines, lit mags, blogs, and multitude of quirky home-grown projects that proliferate from the sunny south coast city to know that The Gong is full of talented folk. This was the second annual Wollongong Writers Festival, coordinated by Chloe Higgins and run by dedicated volunteers. The aim was to take a love for writing and reading to the masses, to get it “out of the institution and into the community”, and Writer’s Edit was lucky enough to be there for two amazing panels on Saturday 11th October.

Wollongong writers fest2
What we learnt from this year's Wollongong Writers Festival. Image Credit: Kyra Bandte.

The first panel was called ‘Art in Isolation’, a discussion about the importance of building creative communities and networking with other writers. Chloe Higgins said that Wollongong, with initiatives like the writers festival, was modelling itself off cities like Newcastle:

People there just said, ‘f*ck it’, and started something themselves without needing permission from the top.”

Other Gong-based start-ups include the monthly Enough Said poetry slam nights, which co-founder Lorin Reid admitted, started out quite slow. But now the slams are producing new poets and pushing them on to greater things in established competitions, as well as drawing huge crowds:

We were pulling small crowds every month, but they were never the same people every time. Then we moved and added a small fee at the door, started getting feature poets in and now the place is packed. There are people squeezing in, sitting on the floor. It’s about creating a new community of people who like the idea of poetry.”

The discussion moved to online communities, where Spineless Wonders founder Bronwyn Mehan noted that the internet makes it easy for creatives in rural regions to become part of a like-minded group, without feeling isolated by distance. Spineless Wonders currently run an online book club, where books are sent out to individuals who can then participate in online discussion, including with the authors themselves.

We have a big online presence, but you’ve gotta put your personality into it. It’s important to have ‘movers’, people who will help build those communities. You do have to ask people to lend a hand, to participate, to step out of their comfort zone.”

Martin De Biasi, founder of online writing competition site Needle in the Hay, agreed that online communities are a lot of hard work, often taking up a lot of time just to build a social media presence and get the word out about your project:

Everything is so heightened online, people are quick to judge. That comes down to how you manage your online presence. The first competition on Needle in the Hay, there were three submissions. And one of them was mine. And I didn’t win.”

But each panellist showed that if you have an idea or a creative passion (and you can’t quite fit with something else) then by all means, take on some initiative to start up your own project and build a community around it. With hard work and dedication comes success, and the popularity of the poetry slams, publications, and competitions discussed proved there’s hope for us all to find a niche and start up something spectacular.

Stay tuned for out next article on what we learned from the Wollongong Writers Festival, when we sat in on 'I Want to Read Your Live Journal on a Plane: Talking About Opportunities in Digital Writing and Publishing'.

Kyra Thomsen

Kyra is a writer and editor from Wollongong. She works full-time as a content writer while reading on the train and drafting short fiction stories in her spare time. Kyra won the 2012 Questions Writing Prize and has been published in Kindling, Seizure Online, Space Place & Culture and Tide. She enjoys admiring her bookshelves, watching cheesy shows on Netflix, and browsing her Tumblr. You can learn more about Kyra's previous publications, plus find fortnightly posts, on her website: kyrathomsen.com.

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