As this year's Melbourne Writers Festival (#MWF, #MWF2015, @MelbWritersFest) is about to begin (August 20-30), I am delighted to report that I will be attending a total of 14 events -- a record-breaking number for me -- with subjects ranging from writing and the media to politics and Asia/China.
I look forward to listening to a wide range of Australian and international speakers and experiencing the literary world through their eyes. This is because this year, since February, I have been participating in the Festival's ongoing preparations as an Audience Advocate. In the words of Ms Lisa Dempster, Festival Director:
"Each year MWF audiences bring the Festival to life by responding passionately to the ideas and writing at the heart of our events -- through conversations online, live at our events, or in bars and restaurants afterwards. As Festival Director, I strive to weave opportunities for reflection, discussion and feedback into everything MWF does as an organisation. Our ongoing dialogue with the readers of Melbourne informs so much of what we do -- the style of events we deliver, the writers we invite to the Festival, the themes we cover and even how we facilitate audience questions at events.
"Put simply, MWF cares deeply about connecting with Melbourne's readers in a meaningful way. So earlier this year we introduced a somewhat unusual (but awesome!) initiative to make sure Melbourne's readers have a direct line to the Festival to share their ideas: Audience Advocates."
From a pool of more than 270 self-nominated applicants, I and the other 11 people "with diverse reading passions and a love for the Festival" were lucky to be selected as MWF 2015's Audience Advocates. We met with Ms Dempster regularly to discuss our views and opinions, and to contribute to MWF's programming and planning by bouncing all sorts of (crazy) ideas back and forth -- ideas that can be considerably different from those proposed by MWF's industry partners.
What exactly do audiences want from literary festivals? While we all want to see and listen to those famous authors and buy their books, Ms Dempster has correctly identified our fundamental desires:
"Our research showed that the reasons why people attend MWF are: calibre of guests, variety and diversity of the program, and festival 'buzz'. Their motivations for attending are intellectual (to increase their knowledge base, to gain new insights and have their ideas challenged) and emotional (to spark their imagination and creativity)."
I suppose this perfectly reflects the contemporary worldwide literary trend == what Ms Dempster refers to as "audience-driven programming" is all about "looking beyond the literary industry and trying to understand what the readers want". Only if the world's publishing industries can all think like this!
Here and here are two of MWF's releases about us Audience Advocates.
Image thanks to: Melbourne Writers Festival.