Art & Design


Emerging Writers’ Festival

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In a city with so many festivals (Melbourne Scarf Festival anyone?) it’s easy to lose track and miss some exceptional events. The Emerging Writers’ Festival is one such jewel. With Melbourne now an international City of Literature we’d be expected to put on a cracking writers’ festival. Well we do, and I managed to squeeze ten minutes out EWF Director Lisa Dempster to talk to us about her obsession.

Tell us a little bit about the EWF.
The Emerging Writers’ Festival is an eleven-day festival that takes place in venues across Melbourne every winter. We’re a bit different from your typical literary festival because our audience is made up primarily of writers, and we program events with them in mind. We don’t get hung up on the capital-L ‘literary’ and instead champion and discuss all kinds of writing, from blogging to opinion writing, memoir to zines, song writing to journalism and many things in between. We strike a balance between fun and entertainment, networking and professional development opportunities, and strive to inform, inspire and delight!

This is your second year of running the festival. A usual tenure in the arts is three years, do you think that’s long enough to stay fresh but also have the experience to conceptualise and realise your ambitions?
I hope so. When I came into this role I had never run a project so complex or had much event management experience, so it was a pretty steep learning curve. However I had been a fan of the festival for a long time so creatively I found my feet pretty quickly. This year is all about boldness for me – the program is much bigger and more diverse than it has ever been, and we’re putting on higher-profile performance events and inviting more artists than ever. In addition, we’ll be taking the festival interstate for the second time ever, to run an event that will be the first of its kind in Australia. I have a passion for the festival so I’m sure I’ll be able to keep things fresh and keep the ideas flowing across three years! I’m helped along by an amazing Programming Advisory Committee, an annually-changing group of industry professionals who feed me their great ideas throughout the year. The best thing about having a three-year plan is not just that I will get to run three festivals, but that I will be able to help the organisation with long-term planning to ensure that we undergo sustained growth in the coming years.

As we move more into a digital, paperless society do you see the way we write evolving towards this? Are there more online writing events than traditional or do you try to keep it balanced?
I think the most exciting change we are seeing in this digital revolution is that writers are able to really take control of their own careers. Previously writers were fairly passive in the publishing process – that is, they would get selected by a publisher who would then put their book out and arrange the marketing. Now writers are on social media, they’re taking on more of their own marketing, they’re blogging, they’re self-publishing, and the role of writer is seen as something quite entrepreneurial. While the festival balances its programming between new and more traditional forms of writing, we do try to champion this entrepreneurial spirit and try to give our audience members a good arsenal of tools to be able to go out there and achieve their writing goals, whatever they may be.

What are the events you are most excited about this year?
There’s so much good stuff happening this year, it’s hard to know where to start. Performance-wise, I think it will be hard to top Dirty Words, a raunchy literary cabaret taking place at The Toff In Town, which will feature Linda Jaivan and many sexy local luminaries. Our Town Hall Writers’ Conference is how I first got involved with the Emerging Writers’ Festival and it always gives me a buzz; it’s two days of panels and discussions aimed at inspiring and informing emerging writers of all kinds. And for pure fun, our closing night party this year is going to be a Spelling Bee hosted by Josh Earl. So I’m hoping to get a bunch of closet Scrabble fans to come out on the night and get their geek on for that.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival runs from May 26 – June 5
For a full list of events visit

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