Melbourne Writers Festival online takeaways (#MelbourneWritersFestival #MWF21 #MWFDigital)

Image Source: Melbourne Writers Festival 2021

For the second year in a row, all live events planned for the Melbourne Writers Festival were canceled. It’s disappointing news to all storytellers and story lovers, but we’re grateful that festival organisers have brought forward a series of online programs in the most difficult of circumstances.

In the words of Lord Mayor Sally Capp: “Now, more than ever, it is time for us to come together to help make sense of the world.” As we prepare ourselves to bounce back “bigger, better and brighter than ever”, the MWF’s online programs help us re-energise ourselves with culture and creativity, for “we are, and always will be, a city full of literary minds, readers and thinkers”.

The “MWF Digital” program features 10 events to be streamed online until September 15. The international authors highlighted include Rumaan Alam, Natasha Brown, Rachel Cusk, Emma Dabiri, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sigrid Nunez and Viet Thanh Nguyen, just to name a few. Events are available individually on a Pay-What-You-Can basis or via a Digital Pass.

Meanwhile, “Writers on Film” is a specially commissioned documentary series mapping the creative lives of three beloved Australian authors. Viewable via YouTube, these short films feature Jennifer Down, Sophie Cunningham and Tony Birch doing self-narrated tours of neighbourhoods and personally significant sites that informed their award-winning books.

After watching the series, why not check out the books themselves? Birch’s latest collection of short stories Dark as Last Night was published last month, and his novels Ghost River (2015) and The White Girl (2019) are must-reads. Also worth perusing are Canningham’s Melbourne (2011) and City of Trees: Essays on life, death and the need for a forest (2019), and Down’s latest novel Bodies of Light will arrive later this month.

Another MWF Extra to be found online is “Writing Melbourne”, a total of 11 works of fiction and non-fiction that reflect life in our city. Part of the Metro Tunnel Creative Program, the project displays excerpts of each commissioned work alongside illustrations by local artists at the City Square.

The writers highlighted include Melanie Cheng (Room for a Stranger [2019], Australia Day [2017]), Stephanie Convery (After the Count: The death of Davey Browne [2020]), Laura McPhee-Browne (Cherry Beach [2020]), Thuy On (Turbulence [2020]) and Nova Weetman (The Edge of Thirteen [2021]), just to name a few.

This reviewer recommends “Cats of My Neighbours” by Ronnie Scott (The Adversary [2020]), a subtle story with an interesting twist. It’s about observing cats, yes, but it’s also a reflection on the “push and pull between states of loneliness and independence” that characterises life in a city apartment.

Finally, if you know an international student studying with a Victorian education provider, why not invite them to submit a story about their real or fictional life in Victoria? The “Melbourne Beginnings” program requests written and visual stories of “This is how my story began…” that are inspirational, nostalgic or fantastical. Entries close on September 20.

Details about the aforementioned programs can be found on the MWF website.

Note: This article was originally published under the title “MWF online takeaways” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, September 14, 2021, P.9.

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