Saturday, June 9, 2012

In praise of literary festivals

Not long ago I was part of a panel at the Emerging Writers' Festival, talking about 'structure' in writing.

I was joined by (from left to right) Anita Sethi, Benjamin Grant Mitchell, Fiona Harris and Ali Cobby Eckermann (not pictured). (You can read summaries of our panel here and here.)

Prompted by the gig, and the regularity of festivals every year, I wrote a column for the Canberra Times, 'A healthy civilisation needs writers -- and readers', which ran yesterday.

(At least I think it was yesterday. I'm in Nova Scotia, Canada, giving a talk at the Philosophy and Martial Arts conference. Stay tuned for more on this.)

I was arguing for the important role of literary festivals in developing a healthy literary culture, and the value of literature for society. A sample:
[W]riting promotes reflection - aesthetic, ethical, political. It is basic for healthy democratic life, which requires critical judgment: each citizen, ideally, must reflect upon the values and policies of candidates, parties and lobbies. The best writers - in books, newspapers, online - help us to think well. As art, writing can also enrich and expand human experience. Everyday life can be vague and variable. Perception becomes dimmed, ideas hazy and emotions dulled. Art takes the water and peat of experience, and distils it: a whisky more striking, subtle or suggestive. This can open our eyes to our own psyche, but also to others'. Other genders, classes, ethnicities, eras, in all their ambiguity and ambivalence - we can see and feel as they do.
(Photo: courtesy of Anita Sethi)

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