What Gets Written at a Writers’ Festival?

Photo at Sydney Writers' Festival 2012 by Tom Worthington

(Posthumous note found in the effects of legendary extrovert and bon vivant, J.D. Salinger)

Let me lovingly dedicate this pretty skimpy piece to my fellow authors who loved to schmooze writing festivals and festschrift symposia: Kafka, Celine, Balzac, Gogol.

So after managing to fend off my mother and shave, I headed downtown to campus and the common, a safe space bordered by elms and a large shelter shed under eucalypts, next to a service road. Not two weeks before, during a talk by Professor Tupper on Elitism in the Arts, the organised Shout-Down was interrupted by ten men in black jeans and balaclavas, wielding night-sticks, who set about the student body as though it was seal-gathering season.

I’m sure they were Tupper’s hired goons, even though he did discard his lecture notes and attend the wounded and dying.

This summer’s mid-morning, the University had taken precautions; fat men in high-viz dotted the boundary of the common, and some were evident about the tea-urn and trestles laden with a mountain of pastries.

We took our chairs near the aisle, about 12 rows back. Ridwan Azaz Omar was to speak first. Colourfully bedecked in a green and white hijab, her text was taken from a monograph by Abu Bakr, “The Word is Reserved for the Prophet,” which, as she developed it, suggested that it behoved us all to lay down our Mont Blancs, our Remingtons, our Apple Macs, HB pencils and so forth.

So I did. My life has been so much richer since I stopped writing little novels of no consequence. Letters of entreaty and admiration I consign to our New England hearth, as idolatrous.

I did toy with the idea of writing about a Jewish recluse, living on the East Coast, dabbling in mysticism and booking a last flight to Florida, but who was I to attempt such arrogant presumption?

At morning coffee, everyone was exchanging numbers and taking selfies.

The second speaker was Shirley Blackknight-Templar. Sporting bright yellow overalls, she invited us to the yard that evening for a book-burning of those decadent chauvinists, Roth, Mailer, Vidal, Vonnegut, Vogel, Shaw, Heller, and Pynchon. Only when all gender-determinative fiction was eradicated would the Real Enlightenment commence, she advised.

Last before lunch, we heard from Ridley Blathers. He sponsors the orientation week on campus and to ensure student safety, has recommended to the Trustees that all male freshmen undergo radical steps to minimise the danger of harassment and acts of oppressive arrogance, which he calls, in a forthcoming tract published by the university press, “The Klingsor Solution.”

There was a bridge table in the shed groaning under the weight of lox, but I had to pass, and threw-up into the ornamental moat.


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