Plot, Pitch, Persist, Perform and Partake – Emily Stewart and the Emerging Writers’ Festival

(C) John Stewart 2013. Used with permission.

(C) John Stewart 2013. Used with permission.

With the 2014 Emerging Writers’ Festival just around the corner, I had a chat with Emily Stewart about her experience as a participant at the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival. Emily’s installation, The Dear Reader Project, involved conversing with a participant before giving them one of her treasured books, along with a unique handwritten letter. I also asked Emily what’s got her excited about ewf2014.

How did you first hear about EWF?

I remember first hearing about EWF years ago, when I was living in Canberra. I’ve been attending the festival since moving to Melbourne in 2010, and became an active participant in the festival for the first time last year.

What inspired you to take part in the festival?

Having attended the festival in the past, I had a sense of its atmosphere – it felt like an open and inclusive place where I could test out something a bit different. I wrote my pitch and sent it through straight away, before I could talk myself out of it.

Had you pulled out before submitting a pitch to EWF before?

I had definitely seen the call out for participants come and go in previous years.

What got you over the line to send this pitch off? Do you think it was belief in the project, not wanting to let the call out come and go again, or something else entirely?

Firstly it was a strong idea that I was excited by. But I think I’d also reached a point where it was time to dive in.

What was the inspiration behind the Dear Reader project?

I was interested in exploring our relationship to books as objects. I’d come to a crossroads in my own behaviour where I’d started avidly reading ebooks, and the psychic weight of the books on my shelves had begun to bear down on me. I was interested in the psychology of what books we keep, and why, as well as the question of what to do with all of them. Could I give them away? Would that be devastating? Why?

Were there any challenges leading up to Dear Reader?

In the month preceding the installation, I had a severe flare up of RSI. It was pretty scary at the time – I lost function of my right hand to the point where I couldn’t even turn a door handle or brush my teeth. Initially I’d been planning on giving away fifty books, but I ended up having to downsize.

Your injury didn’t alter the mechanics of your installation, though, just the scale?

Luckily just the scale – and it worked out for the best. Thirty books was just the right amount for the length of the installation. I thought for a time that I might have to dictate the letters for someone else to type or write, and that would have been pretty challenging. I don’t think I can write unless my hand is moving – maybe that’s a different challenge for another time.

How did you promote your event?

In the lead-up to the event, I didn’t do too much promotion. Because I could only interact with a maximum of thirty people, there wasn’t the pressure to draw a large audience. I put a note up on my blog and did a couple of tweets on the day so that people at the festival knew where to find me. But I knew I wanted to write about the installation, and so I also sought out opportunities to publish an essay about it. Which is how I ended up writing the piece for If: Book Australia!

What was the most rewarding part of the Dear Reader project?

The conversations I had with each participant. The conversations started about books and spiralled out in all kinds of strange and wonderful ways. It reminded me – the project reminded me – that we read because we want to engage with the world and learn it better. I think that a book on its own isn’t quite enough – you need to also be able to test your reading with others, whether this is in direct or indirect ways.

What was the stand-out moment as a festival attendee?

An event called Sweatshop Stories – Sweatshop are a collective of writers from Western Sydney. They put a lot of effort into presenting their work in an engaging way, and the result was stunning. I think most of the room was in tears by the end of it (in a good way). I think three of last year’s performers, Peter Polities, Luke Carman and Mohammed Ahmad, will be at the festival again this year in a showcase called #Three Jerks.

What are you up to now?

I’ve just finished up editing a novella for Seizure Publishing’s Viva La Novella 2 competition. This is an initiative in support of emerging editors and writers – I was selected as one of four commissioning editors, so our role was to read through submissions and select and edit our chosen manuscript for publication. We’re launching the finished books at this year’s festival – until then, my lips are otherwise sealed!

As well as this, I am working on a visual presentation of my poetry, alongside painter Naomi Bishop for an exhibition at the Rubicon ARI in September. This is an extension of work I undertook as part of a recent residency at the Arteles Creative Centre in Finland. And later this year i’ll be undertaking a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Residency, where I’ll be working on a couple of chapbook manuscripts.

So you’ll be at the ‘Night of the Living Novellas: Hologram and Seizure Launches‘? Will you be presenting?

That’s it. Yes, I’ll be saying a few words about my selected manuscript. It’s going to be a very fun and very chaotic night – it’s the combined launch of Seizure and Hologram Books, so six new books in one night!

Which ewf2014 events are you really pumped for?

It’s a great program this year, and I feel very spoiled for choice. As an editor, the Emerging Editors day is a definite must-see. I’ve also booked in to the mysterious No Lights No Literature event, in which a panel of writers will spill all in the safety of pitch darkness. The other thing I’m really excited about is Astrid Lorange’s workshop; The Book As Experimental Form. In two hours, a small group of participants will create a book. What will even happen? Who knows!

Do you have any words of wisdom for the ewf2014 presenters?

All I can say is good luck, have fun, and see you at the festival bar!

I’m guessing the same advice applies festival attendees (I’ll happily take the festival bar advice)?


 Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer's Festival

Emily’s essay about the aims and achievements of the Dear Reader project was published on if:book Australia. Read more about Emily’s artistic ventures, including reflections on the Dear Reader Project, on her blog. You can also find her on Twitter, at @StewEmily .

Tickets to the 2014 Emerging Writers’ Festival are selling fast. Check out a list of events here.

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