FNAWN was recently invited to send representation to the 2015 ASA National Writers Congress. Held at Luna Park in Sydney on 11 and 12 September, the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Congress theme was Reclaim, Reboot, Renew.
Karen Wyld, one of FNAWN’s new Board Directors, attended the ASA Congress alongside 200 other authors, as well as illustrators and industry professionals. Karen has provided us with a summary:
ASA’s Congress was held two weeks after FANWN’s Workshop, so I was still feeling the euphoria of having been in the company of so many fantastic writers. As you all know, writing is a solitary occupation and, unless you belong to a writers group, opportunities to network with other writers are rare. So I was very privileged to have been given the chance to attend two in a row.
The line-up of guest speakers and panel topics were mostly engaging and of interest. And lunch breaks provided plenty of time to network with writers, publishers, book reviewers and other industry representatives. I had a few opportunities to promote FNAWN and talk about the works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers. I also avidly live-tweeted over the 2 days; which I find is a good way to put forward alternative views from speakers and engage with other attendees.
Both the Hon Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Minister for the Arts (ALP) and Adam Brandt MP (Greens) presented an exciting vision for the arts, and demonstrated respect for writers and a desire to support creative industries. In comparison the Coalition’s arts plan, as presented by Minister for the Arts Senator George Brandis, was sadly lacking. The Government’s plan to redirect $104.8 million from the Arts Council to the newly created National Centre for Excellence in Arts, which has no reference to literature, was not well received by the audience.
Moving on from the disappointment, on the second day there were a few panels of authors and illustrators that were using technology and new mediums to create innovative works. After some negative reactions to digital in previous discussions, it was refreshing to see some of the advantages.
However, the most engaging session was on the first day; during a panel featuring Aboriginal illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft. She was joined by other speakers, including writer Michael Mohammed Ahmed, who raised the ongoing lack of diversity in Australian literature. He, rightly so, named the gatekeepers as being publishers, editors and judging panels.
Sadly, this gatekeeping was demonstrated in a later panel session when a representative from a global publisher pointed out their need to operate commercially; and she believed that books by diverse authors don’t sell. Thank goodness we have networks like FNAWN, because it’s time to open some gates.
I wasn’t able to stay for all of the last session, which was an audience discussion of the key issues for ASA to address. Before I left, there was a robust conversation on the importance of supporting authors from diverse backgrounds. This was a clear call for ASA to direct some energy into advocating for more diversity in Australian literacy. On that note, I left for the airport with a sense of renewed hope.