Gold Coast writers represent on international stage
February 14, 2023
Tim Baker is an author, PhD candidate at Griffith University. In this story, he shares his first-hand experience as an author at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali and chats to a fellow PhD candidate about the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference and Bangalore Literary Festival in India.
Gold Coast writers have been mixing it on the world stage with distinction in recent months.
Local authors have been featured at popular literary festivals in Bali, Indonesia, and Bangalore, India, generating valuable networking opportunities and exposing their work to vast new audiences.
It began at the celebrated Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) in Bali in October, widely considered one of the top five literary festivals in the world. Dr Sally Breen, senior lecturer in creative writing at Griffith University and author of the iconic grunge memoir, The Casuals, led a group of writers from Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) to the first iteration of Bali’s legendary writers’ festival since COVID.
Dr Breen is executive director of the APWT, an organisation that brings writers together across the Asia Pacific region and offers them invaluable opportunities for cross-cultural exchange, networking and collaboration. Other APWT writers on the program included Rob Arnold from Guam, Faye Olayo from the Philippines, and Indian/American Ravi Shankar.
The intoxicating Ubud experience was closely followed by another adventure into literary exotica with the first APWT conference since COVID, in Bangalore, India, timed to coincide with the Bangalore Literary Festival (BLF). A large Gold Coast contingent was in attendance, again largely thanks to the indefatigable Dr Breen. Gold Coast creatives featured on the program at APWT included Vanessa Barrington, Aaron Chapman, Jake Sandter and musician Fletcher Babb.
“APWT works directly with various festival partners to have our writers featured in their programs,” says Sally. “This year we drew on a long-standing connection with UWRF to feature five writers with a specific focus on the Pacific and in India we worked with BLF to feature ten APWT writers from countries as diverse as Australia, Iran, Malaysia and India.
“We know our writers well and can advise directors on how best to place them and their specialities. We assist the writers in applying for funding from relevant institutions to support their travel when this aspect is not covered by grants of our own. Our reputation helps writers secure places in these large-scale festivals they might not otherwise have been able to access on their own.”
It’s difficult to capture the joy and profound benefits of participating in a festival like Ubud for an author, to promote their work, meet other writers from around the world and simply soak up the collegiate spirit generated by being able to gather again in a location as delightful as Ubud.
I dined with poets from the Ukraine, met Meita Kasim who formed Indonesia’s first all-girl punk band, and shared panels with writers from India, Bangladesh, Thailand and the US. I was approached by publishers from Hungary interested in my book and met directors from other writers’ festivals who extended invitations to their own events. These are the kinds of opportunities that can only arise amid the hubbub and camaraderie of a dynamic writers’ festival environment.
“Australian writers benefit from making connections beyond our borders in the Asia Pacific region, opening up opportunities for their voices to be heard beyond what can sometimes be an insular and relatively small market in Australia,” says Dr Breen.
“Writers’ festivals in India, for example, are attended by thousands of people of all ages – many of our writers sold out their titles in the bookstore in a matter of minutes and the festival exposure is just the beginning. The connections generated at these events lead to all different kinds of publication, residency and other feature opportunities on an international scale.”
Jake Sandter is a Griffith University creative writing PhD candidate who enjoyed the transformative experience of the APWT conference in Bangalore, providing opportunities to form connections across the global literary community.
“I definitely grew as a writer and a researcher. All festivals and conferences are genuinely insightful and rewarding in their own right,” says Jake.
“But there’s something about travelling and putting yourself outside your comfort zone that heightens the experience.
“Being able to operate in such a rich culture, while talking alongside incredible artists from across the world, gave me the opportunity to connect to a territory and a range of writing discourses that I would have otherwise never had. It does wonders for someone still emerging, like myself.”
Jake and I presented a session on surfing literature which covered everything from ancient Polynesian myths and chants to early western surf writing by Jack London, Mark Twain and Herman Melville, through to contemporary surf fiction. Sadly, I was unable to attend in person so co-presented our session via Zoom, while Jake chaired the session commendably in-person.
“I’ve always found it difficult to feel like I belong to this world. Whether I’m too critical on myself, am struck with imposter syndrome, or have yet to just feel like I’ve got anything useful to contribute, I’m not sure,” says Jake. “But I can definitely say being a part of the Bangalore tour was the first time I felt a part of the conversation. Obviously, networking is unreal. Having such intimate access to such respected individuals was incredible. But I have to say, a highlight was listening to International Booker Prize Winner Geetanjali Shree. There’s no better way, in my opinion, to learn about the writing craft than to listen to a master explain their process.”
And the benefits of these events aren’t limited to writers. Gold Coast based multi-disciplinary artist Aaron Chapman managed APWT event photography and social media and organised his own shoots with architectural firms on the ground in India.
Musician Fletcher Babb (aka Cold Ghost, also an artist in residence at HOTA) performed a cross-cultural collaboration with Iranian multi-disciplinary artist and poet Sholeh Wolpe and local Indian band Mystic Vibes. Their stunning performance at the conference dinner was testimony to the deep connection formed, the benefits of which will be ongoing.
“I’m still on a bit of a high after performing at the APWT event in Bangalore. Collaborating with Iranian poet Sholeh Wolpe and Indian band Mystik Vibes, we explored an excerpt from Sholeh’s recent memoir using spoken word and improvised music,” says Fletcher.
“As busy artists from three different countries, our preparation was limited to one zoom call, one loose rehearsal and one gig. This quick collaborative process created a unique performance that was as beautiful as it was confronting, with Sholeh drawing on the social upheaval in Iran today. After the performance I was left with an intense sense of satisfaction. The musicians had been exceptional to work with in terms of musicality and proficiency and it lifted my game just being in their presence … I concede that I often find networking challenging but my participation in the APWT was artistically rewarding and reminded me of the Asia Pacific neighbourhood to which we belong.”
Sally says this is a common experience for artists joining APWT conferences and enjoying the opportunities it generates. “Every year I see how writers, whether they are emerging or established, benefit from the network APWT generates,” says Dr Breen.
“When I first attended an APWT event in Singapore in 2014, within the year I had secured invitations to attend writers’ festivals in India, published in a major Asian literary journal, edited a collection of Asia Pacific writing for an academic journal and participated in a writing retreat in Indonesia. I made other connections that would generate flow-on opportunities for years and have made lifelong friends with like-minded practitioners from around the world. This is why I believe in APWT and am now the Executive Director. Writers want to communicate and anything that can assist in generating reach and cross-cultural collaboration outside our own bubbles is welcome.”
Learn more about Asia Pacific Writers and Translators here.