Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sydney Writers Festival 2016

Jane Gleeson-White, putting up with me, with characteristic grace
I just returned from another enormous Sydney Writers Festival.

This year I didn't host the 'Curiosity' series -- they had a posse of custodians to do this. Instead, my gigs were chiefly about The Art of Reading.

My first event on Thursday was a talk at the State Library of New South Wales. I discussed the genesis of The Art of Reading, did a quick reading from the chapter on patience -- 'Boredom at Buckingham Palace' -- then gave a brief overview of other chapters.

In ur library talking to ur readers
Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss
all the heavenly glory
We ran out of time for questions, but folks had some corkers during the signing.

That afternoon I finished Maggie Nelson's exceptional The Argonauts. Memoir, but also a careful study of gender, love, parenthood--and the language with which we speak these. It stands on the cliff's edge of the sayable--and what a view. Brilliant.

Next on Friday morning was my sold-out Art of Reading Q and A with Jane Gleeson-White, who ran the conversation beautifully. We chatted about my literary childhood and cravings for Star Trek novels, the literary surfeit of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and more. Jane also asked about the very Englishness of my personal canon -- this is true, and something I hope to remedy. Thanks, Jane, for a great chat.

Reading aloud and talking too much with Jane
Audience questions touched on: reading as a conversation; my parents' library and what they offered the young Damon; my own children, and how freely they roam in my library; and the importance of Batman (more here).

I was on the signing table next to Julian Barnes, which prompted the realisation that our sessions were on simultaneously. WHY DID YOU COME TO MINE, SYDNEY? (But seriously: chuffed by all the goodwill.)

After a short break, I bumbled off to Science House to teach my three-hour 'Everyday Philosophy' workshop (which was also booked out, I think). We discussed some basic ideas of philosophy from David Hume, Alfred North Whitehead, John Dewey and others, then analysed some short texts from Seneca, Nietzsche and Alison Croggon.

Philosophy in action
Then I was briefly back to Pier One, then off to the airport to eat dubious sushi and have Call of Duty tarmac flashbacks.

Because of my short stay, I didn't get to see any other sessions, but I did at least catch up with some old festival mates, and meet some new ones. One of the highlights of every SWF is the behind-the-scenes conversations. Not just the book trade stuff (although that's always illuminating), but also the literary ideas and general observations. Writers do good talk. Cheers to John Birmingham, Kate Tempest, Kate Forsyth, PJ Vogt, Petina Gappah, David Henley, Marie Darrieussecq and Ashley Hay for their company.

Congratulations to Jemma Birrell and the SWF gang for another great year. Thanks, once again, for making me feel so welcome.

Sydney, you smouldering sexy thing

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