Every year, the Emerging Writers Festival takes on four Associate Producers who take on responsibility for an event at the festival. The challenging and rewarding program also presents opportunities to meet people in the Melbourne writing community. If you want to be involved, applications close 5pm Thursday 23 January 2014.
Kate McKenzie and Fiona Dunne met during their time as Associate Producers. We spoke to them about their experience.
What was your responsibility as an Associate Producer?
Kate: I was originally responsible for Page Parlour, the zine fair event, which I was pretty excited about. It was an event that I had enjoyed in previous years, and I am excited about indie publishing. I already had some zines in particular which I hoped would get involved so I could meet the editors. Once the festival came closer, I was asked to take on responsibility for the Late Night Live events at Thousand Pound Bend. These literary events were hosted in an amazing warehouse space, and I had a lot of work to do to transform the event space. I brought in a stage and a projector and other equipment to create a performance space where artists could present awards, present readings and host panels. I was lucky enough to work with Melbourne magazines The Lifted Brow and Kill Your Darlings and Sydney magazines Ampersand and Seizure. They had some incredible guests including Bill Henson, Helen Razor as well as the winner of the Viva La Novella prize, Jane Jervis-Reid.
Fiona: I was a bit of an experiment in a few ways. I was brought on as an AP with the aim of making the festival a good experience for interstate attendees. Sam Twyford-Moore, as the festival’s first interstate Director, recognised the need to acknowledge the investment that writers make in travelling and attending the festival each year, between booking fights, trains, or hotels, and taking time off work.
With this in mind, we hosted an interstate networking event at the Thousand Pound Bend. It was an informal space where you could grab a beer or coffee and just have a chat with others who had travelled to Melbourne. It meant that there was a familiar face in the crowd and you could orientate yourself in the city before The Writers’ Conference began.
I also hosted the Australian Stories panel at The Writers’ Conference, where we heard from Ben Walter, Vanessa Jones, Leni Shilton and Chritopher Currie about the work that was going on in their respective states. I think it was a wonderful panel in many ways, and certainly highlighted the strong, diverse work that was occurring nationally. It was also a wake-up for many of the Melbournians in the crowd, and raised a lot of questions about what we could do to open up communication between the states to foster the writing.
Otherwise, I was helping out wherever I could, meeting and talking to people coming through the doors and live-tweeting until my fingers fell off or Twitter broke (whichever came first).
What did you learn?
F: Tons. Learning what goes into producing a yearly festival was astounding. It’s a lot of love, energy, and sweat for everyone involved, and it was incredible to see the program on paper translate into conversations, discussions, debates, and performances. I learnt how to host a panel, write blog posts, research and analyse audience statistics, set-up, pack down and evaluate the success of events. It was really rewarding to see the process of programming go from an idea, to briefing sheet, to the event, and beyond.
K: I learned a lot very quickly. It was a challenging position – in a good way! Because it is a small team, everyone has to be able to help out in lots of different areas. I had to send out briefing sheets, write blog posts, organise volunteers, set up equipment and report on events. The Emerging Writers Festival has year-round programming, so I also worked at the White Night event last year because it happened to be during my time as an AP.
What was your highlight of the festival experience?
F: Well, that’s a hard one. Overall, I enjoyed meeting new people and talking to them about their work or projects. It was especially exciting to meet those that I followed, or spoke to on Twitter, admired from afar, or those who only seemed to live on my bookshelf or radio. Continuing those relationships beyond the festival has been just as great. For example, I met Kate during the program launch at The Wheeler Centre. Sam said something along the lines of ‘Hey, you’re both APs, you should talk.’ After that, we grabbed some dinner and added each other on Facebook. She very kindly let me crash in her spare room for the festival and introduced me to some of Melbourne’s best coffee and Spanish baked eggs.
The Hobart Roadshow was really fun, and a great experience to find out who the talented writers of Tasmania are and how their burgeoning literary community. They really blew me away with their work and enthusiasm.
Program wise, Sweatshop Stories was incredible and anybody who saw them will attest to that. Listening to Melinda Harvey talk on literary criticism as part of Critical Conditions, and hosting Australian Stories was a definite (if somewhat nerve-wrecking) highlight, as well as hosting and organizing Seizure’s Late Night Live event at the Thousand Pound Bend. Oh, and eating a steady diet of burgers and cider at the Bend for the 10 days I was there.
K: I really enjoyed the performance by literacy collective, Sweatshop, at the Writers’ Conference. They really blew my mind with their incredible energy and talent. Each speaker had such a strong voice, you really got sucked into their world as they were speaking.
I also got to meet the other festival staff who work incredibly hard and party just as hard. I met another AP, Fiona, when she came down to Melbourne just before the festival. We had dinner together at Thousand Pound Bend and she ended up staying with me during the festival later that year. I still work with her on projects and we Skype across the country.
I was lucky enough to go to the EWF Hobart Roadshow and I was asked to host a panel at MONA. The whole roadshow was really wonderful, and it was great to make connections with the Hobart literary community.
What are you doing now, and how did the Associate Producer program help you get there?
F: At the end of last year, I was hired as the Publishing and Marketing Assistant of ARTAND Australia. It’s a fantastic and varied role with a truly intelligent and influential magazine. Each day is quite different, but overall, I assist in the production of the magazine and book projects, manage subscriptions, and help the office to run smoothly. It takes a great deal of organisation and adaptability, and I think The Emerging Writers’ Festival really prepares you to be versatile, creative and work to an unforgiving deadline.
Being an Associate Producer teaches you the ropes of how a literary festival works, the challenges it faces and just how wide-ranging contemporary literature is in Australia. This year, I’ll be working on the festival to produce an exciting new program. It’s an exciting opportunity, and definitely one I wouldn’t have been able to do without the skills and knowledge I learnt last year.
K: I have just been hired as the Marketing and Development Co-Ordinator at EWF. It is a new role, and it is super exciting to be able to take on this role and really make it my own. I have been working on some really cool projects with the Digital Writers’ Festival which is coming up in a few weeks. It really is ahead of the game in terms of digital events for writers. I have big ideas for developing the existing audience of the Festival and building new audiences interstate and overseas.
I am also a publisher’s assistant at COSMOS magazine. I get to work on bringing a print magazine into the digital world as part of a pioneering team. I have a very broad role where I help everyone in the editorial team as well as managing the subscriptions department. It is really great to be a part of the publishing world and to make a meaningful contribution to it. They were impressed with my work at EWF and I bring my digital marketing and event planning experience to the team there.