It’s been 55 years since the very first Brisbane Writers Festival, but age hasn’t stopped it from presenting new and interesting stories.
For her first festival as CEO and Artistic Director, Zoe Pollock has moved from Sydney to bring a new perspective to the premier event, hoping to create an immersive experience for audiences.
“I’ve always been looking for new ways to engage audiences, and I’m particularly interested in how we pursue that in new formats,” Zoe explains. “I’m always looking for those different ways we can engage new audiences and give people different experiences that are fun and entertaining, as well as educational. I wanted to bring that to Brisbane to put our festival on the map.”
This year’s festival will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the iconic Miles Franklin Award-winning novel ‘Carpentaria’ by Alexis Wright. “Many people say Alexis Wright is one of our most important writers. Rereading it, I’m just struck by how timeless it is. It’s an interesting book and I thought paying tribute to a Queensland author was important, and to tell that story in a new way.”
One of the ways Zoe and her team are presenting ‘Carpentaria’ in a new way is with Angel’s Palace, a recreation of Aboriginal character Angel Day’s junkyard palace. “That’s one of my crazy ideas,” she laughs. “We’ve commissioned Gordon Hookey, who’s a local Aboriginal artist and he’s painted this wonderful canvas that represents the home of the character. We’re printing it on a 15 square metre dome that’s seven metres tall. You can walk in to Angel’s Palace and experience a live performance and a digital landscape that will bring the novel to life.”
Another way ‘Carpentaria’ threads its way through the festival is through its theme: ‘The Big Stories And The Little Ones In Between’; a quote from the book Zoe feels highlights the festival’s mission.
“We really thought that actually reflected a lot of what a writers festival experience is because we do have really big stories we’re telling at this festival. One of our headline acts is Nancy MacLean, who’s written a book called ‘Democracy In Chains’. She’s looking at the story of American politics over the last 50 years, so that’s a huge story to be exploring. In terms of little stories, we’re recognising that everyone has a story, that our audience have their own stories and we’ve got some really beautiful personal stories we’re showcasing this year as well.”
The programme for the festival is filled with big names, from John Safran to Garth Nix and even Alexis Wright herself. Authors present talks, readings and workshops throughout the festival and attendees can relax at the new Top Shelf pop-up bar. “I think when people start looking at the programme they will see there’s many things to appeal to all tastes,” Zoe says.
Something Zoe hopes is the festival will show the importance of writers. “We have a headline event called ‘A World Without Writers’. We’re asking writers to present their idea of a world without writers. It’s about reminding us all what writers do and why we need storytellers.”
As the daughter of writers, Zoe understands the importance of literature and hopes to share the stories of her new home. “I think it speaks to the importance of Queensland to literature. It really has been a state that has contributed heavily to our literary foundations.”