Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Brisbane Writers Festival 2016

Gestures of bafflement: DY on The Art of Reading (Photo: Dani Taylor)
Last week was the Brisbane Writers Festival, and I hauled myself up north to suffer the indignities of warmth, sunshine, good company and some amazing food.

As always, the hotel offered me an abundance of pillows (not Wi-Fi). I finally figured out what to do with them.
Fort Pillow, Brisbane
My BWF began with the opening night launch on Thursday, which included a fantastic speech from University of Queensland (UQ) Provost Joanne Wright. I skipped the launch speech from US novelist Lionel Shriver to write, but you can read it here. For the record, and contra Shriver, I believe good writing does often 'honour reality', including the experiences of others unlike ourselves. Contra some of her critics, I believe this is a reason to write well (which is shorthand for an enormous moral and aesthetic task), not to shrink from the challenge, or chastise others for even trying.

My first gig on Friday was 'Everyday Philosophy', my workshop. Smaller this year, it involved some excellent discussion -- particularly on cultivating philosophy in the classroom, and the tensions (genuine and dubious) between technology and reflection.

Then 'Writers and their Gardens' with journalist and scholar Margaret Simons, hosted by chef and entrepreneur Brenda Fawdon. It was a relaxed, often-funny conversation, which touched on everything from the philosophy of nature to the ethics of killing and letting-die (baby rats for Margaret, a mouse for me).

Tend to your vines and crush the horror: BF, MS, DY
Saturday morning saw me up early to speak at a UQ alumni breakfast: on my approach to philosophy, and how this relates to my children's books like My Sister is a Superhero.

Comical philosopher, graphic art
Next was my main event, 'The Art of Reading', a conversation with Queensland's State Librarian and CEO of the State Library, Vicki McDonald. Vicki prompted me to reflect on the virtues of reading, the value of literacy, my own literary idiosyncrasies, and (among other fun questions) my favourite word. (I chose 'reverie'.) Some good discussion on the role of librarians and teachers in promoting an lifelong devotion to the written word.

The importance of being earnest: VM, DY
Philosopher in the spotlight (Photo: Dani Taylor)
Finally, I was on a 'New Philosopher' panel on nature, with neuropsychologist Nicola Gates and Margaret Simons, chaired by New Philosopher editor Antonia Case. The session touched on the ambiguity of the word ''nature', the intellectual and psychological value of romantic landscapes and 'green spaces', the threats to healthy ecosystems, and how to value life other than our own.

When I hear the word 'nature' I reach for my...:
AC, NG, DY, MS (Photo: Dani Taylor)
As always, every gig is only an introduction to ideas and personalities; a nudge, a glimpse, a faint scent. As with reading, it's up to the audience to take it further (and sometimes to surpass the 'talent').

Many thanks, once again, to festival director Julie Beveridge and her staff, and all the volunteers (without whom...). Special thanks to Yen-Rong Wong for her contributions.

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