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Sam van Zweden

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Moleskine Coffee & Create at MWF

mwf17

In case you haven’t caught it on my social media: I’m really excited to be appearing at a Melbourne Writers Festival event this coming Sunday morning (3 September 2017). The session will be hosted by Madeleine Dore from Extraordinary Routines – this is a really great blog featuring the stories of creative people’s routines, giving insight into how they keep it all afloat. Maddy’s a fantastic interviewer, and one of the warmest people I know, so I feel really lucky to be sharing a stage with her.

Also part of the event is Karen Andrews, who I have worked with and called a friend for many years now, and whose most recent (very gorgeous) book of poetry I reviewed not so long ago. Karen’s also got a book of creative tips and tricks coming out soon.

Karen and I will be talking with Maddy about creative routines, how we manage our sanity (or don’t) while writing, and providing some solid advice that people can apply to their own practice.

The event is free and unticketed – I’d love to see you there.

Revisiting JSF’s meat book

I’m revisiting Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I loved this book the first time around, and remember it for being a wonderfully personal take on the ethics of meat eating.

Next week, I’m doing a panel at The Wheeler Centre called ‘Green Cleaver‘ – I’ll be talking with Sam Cooney, Richard Cornish and Tammi Jonas about the role of meat in our lives and how we can do it better.

This, I suppose, in the wake of having written about why we struggle to embrace offal; and why the stories we tell about food are important.

I’m still working – always, forever – on the larger manuscript about food’s significance in our lives. In my research for that project, I hadn’t thought to revisit Jonathan Safran Foer’s book – it’s about food, but I didn’t remember it being relevant to what I’m writing.

Until now. In preparation for the panel event on Tuesday, I’m dipping back into JSF. This paragraph encapsulates so much of what I’m trying to do in my work, it’s hard to believe I’d forgotten it:

Perhaps [my grandmother’s] other stories were too difficult to tell. Or perhaps she chose her story for herself, wanting to be identified by her providing rather than her surviving. Or perhaps her surviving is contained within her providing: the story of her relationship to food holds all of the other stories that could be told about her. Food, for her, is not food. It is terror, dignity, gratitude, vengeance, joyfulness, humiliation, religion, history, and, of course, love. As if the fruits she always offered us were picked from the destroyed branches of our family tree.

It’s succinct, and hard-hitting, and I’m finding it so energising. Deeply sad, very important, and energising.

NonfictioNOW 2015 Day 2 & 3 Notes

It’s been a week since the NonfictioNOW conference, and I’ve been travelling non-stop. I thought I’d get a chance to compose my thoughts in the days immediately following the conference, but I’m starting to realise that I need to write in the short moments of down-time. There won’t be an afternoon spare.

Day 2:

The Poessaytics of Form: (Brenda Miller, Paul Lisicky, Linette D’Amico, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Barrie Jean Borich). Leaning on the academic side of the weird academic/festival boundary that NonfictioNOW teeters on, this panel presented papers on the playfulness of form and possibilities of the ways that poetry feeds into nonfiction. “Differences in mediums and genre don’t have to be dividing lines – they can be intersections” suggested Fletcher. Borich’s paper stood out. “I have always believed nonfiction begins with a poem” – I believe this too. I find that reading poetry before essaying is generally much more useful than reading other people’s essays. Open up the poem in the essay. Celebrate the intersections.

Tim Flannery’s Keynote: I am a proud and an ashamed Australian. Proud because Tim Flannery is one of ours. Ashamed because he’s someone whose work I’d never previously engaged with. I’d understood it to be important (climate change, anthropology, science), but never of particular interest to me. My eyes have been opened! Thanks, NFN programming. This keynote stood out as different from the conference’s other keynotes – Flannery took a conversational approach, spinning tales and keeping the whole room captivated. The conference did a good job of programming discussions of nonfiction built to leave the page, or to use page space in interesting and new ways. Flannery’s keynote reminded me how pleasurable it can be to hear a good story, told out loud – the old-fashioned way. I’m converted. Tim Flannery is a truly wonderful storyteller.

Creative Facting: (Dave Madden, Michael Martone, Tim Denevi, Maggie Nelson). This panel was conducted festival-style, with chair Dave Madden entering into a discussion with panellists – it came as a welcome change after a day and a half of papers. Not that papers are bad, but my brain needed a break. The problem the panel was to discuss, as Madden put it, was how to bring ‘facts’ out of their passivity, and into the writer’s own voice. He suggested “Using facts in a way that doesn’t just resonate with our heads, but also with our hearts and our guts” – a kind of writing I’m sure we all aspire to, and a kind of writing I know I felt particularly keenly when reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. Madden referred to “the nonfictive imagination” as the source of movement for facts. Nelson reflected on this idea as “the modes of assembly that make new things happen”. I thought of Nelson’s words in an interview I read recently about how juxtaposition and arrangement are the main actions of nonfiction writing. This is the thing about facts, isn’t it? They can bolster a piece, but they need to be put in the right place, in the right order, between the right other things.

Michael Martone noted that the drives behind narrative and lyric writing work in different ways – the written medium lines up, ie, words move left to right. By its nature, it wants to move forward. However, the lyric form makes words stand still. The poetry of the form creates an illusion where we’re taking in all the words at once. (Aside: Martone’s excited method of execution on this panel was infectious. Watch the guy talk and just try not to get excited about writing nonfiction.)

The panelists were asked for their go-to resources for facts. Denevi prefers the library. Nelson retypes things she likes – retyping allows her to live the syntax, understanding the words from the inside out.

When a Writer is Born Into a Family, the Family is F’d: (David Carlin, Sue William Silverman, Amanda Webster, Amy Monticello, Catherine Therese). You can read my coverage of this panel on the NonfictioNOW blog.

Storify: Read the Storify compilation of Day 2’s tweets.

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Day 3:

Some honesty about Day 3 – I skipped the first session. I woke up as a puddle of nerves, and decided to practice some self-care: coffee. Breakfast. Breathing. So, we kick off with the session I was lucky to present as part of. For the rest of the day, I took less notes than I’d have liked, in my post-panel daze and later, when the altitude got the better of me and I took myself home early (missing out, also, on the last event). So apologies if this one’s a little bit sparse. And apologies to the new friends I didn’t get to thank and say goodbye to – I had no idea that altitude could wreck a body like that.

Unusual Foods and Edible Guests: (Amy Wright, Elena Passarello, Matthew Gavin Frank, Joni Tevis, Sam van Zweden). My fellow panellists were amazing – they each read about strange foods, and my god, there are some strange foods in the world! Their beautiful words slowed those foods down, paused the foods, rewound the foods for further consideration – because what we put into our bodies says so much about what matters and how we engage with the world. When I was asked to be part of this panel, I was humbled. And then terrified. And then I did it, and I felt affirmed and more confident in what I have to say. During question time, someone asked what the strangest foods we’d eaten were. “I’m not really interested in unusual foods so much as the unusual effects of mundane foods,” I said. I felt less interesting but honest. Mundane or strange, food means so much, and is worth interrogating for that importance.

Is this a Golden Age for Women Essayists?: (Brenda Miller, Amy Wright, Nicole Walker, Marcia Aldrich). All my notes and my brain retained from this panel – other than Brenda Miller’s fantastic analogy about hermit crabs and form (let form dictate) – was recommendations of publications which the panellists believe represent women’s voices well: The Writer on Her WorkFulcrumEntropyBrevityThe Rumpus.

The Essayist as Human: (Steven Church, Sarah Einstein, Cesar Diaz, Kirk Wisland). There’s the page and there’s the person. The two don’t always gel. Also, who is that person? How do they move about in the world? At each festival/conference I go to, there’s always one person who stands out as the person I’ll keep an eye out for in future. This conference, that was Steven Church, who defined the person behind the page in a way I related to strongly: “Writing isn’t so much a job as a pathology,” he said. “A uniform you never take off.”

Props go out to Sarah Einstein’s strength on this panel, in sharing the story of a difficult fall-out in the wake of a particular essay being published. Because that’s part of being human too – stories continuing beyond the page, the people we love reacting to our work, or being caught up in its discussion, for better or worse.

I wish I had more to share from the conference – I wish the conference could go forever! I want to send out a massive thanks to the NonfictioNOW team for programming such a wonderful weekend, and for including me both as a panellist and giving me access to their social media to wreak havoc at will. I can’t wait for the next one! Thanks also to the RMIT contingent, who took me under their wing and made me feel at home in a weird environment. I want to also thank the Melbourne City of Literature Office for helping me get to the conference. It’s contributed to the way I think of myself as a writer, it’s helped me make connections, it’s opened my eyes. It’s done all the other things I said it’d do on the grant application, so thank you.

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This trip was kindly supported by the UNESCO Melbourne City of Literature travel fund. 

NonfictioNOW 2015 Day 1 Notes

Today, 500 people came together to kick off the conference at NonfictioNOW 2015. With five conference rooms, 193 panelists across 3 days, and a book fair running the length of the (quite long) conference centre, this feels like a dream world. Some promised land for nonfiction writers who don’t quite fit into clean definitions, and who perhaps don’t particularly want to.

The book fair tables running the length of the conference centre.
The book fair tables running the length of the conference centre.

Still kicking against jetlag as hard as I can, and still failing at that fairly badly, I’ve put together a Storify that collects my favourite tweets/moments from the panels I attended.

Just a note on the ‘Hydra-headed Memoirs’ panel, where speakers looked at how they approached their work’s form – is it an essay? An essay collection? A memoir? I feel like this session has helped me immeasurably. I’ve been trying to push my long essay into a book for a while now, and every time I try, I shrink away from it – I wasn’t sure why. I thought maybe I was lesser for not being capable of writing a full-length book. But have a look at what Joe Mackall and Steven Church have to say about essays being essays in the Storify below.

 

[View the story “NonfictioNOW 2015 Conference Day 1” on Storify]

 
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This trip was kindly supported by the UNESCO Melbourne City of Literature travel fund. 

Count-down

Now that I’m able to count down using my very own hands – now that I don’t need to make use of toes, or borrow another person’s body to make up the numbers – now it seems real.

Earlier this year, I was lucky to receive a City of Literature Office travel fund grant. The grant is helping me get to Flagstaff, Arizona for the NonfictioNOW conference from October 28-31. The conference describes itself as “a regular gathering of over 400 nonfiction writers, teachers, and students from around the world in an effort to explore the past, present, and future of nonfiction”. Not quite a festival and not quite a conference, NonfictioNOW was hosted at RMIT in Melbourne in 2012. During that conference, I blogged and soaked up new ideas. I feel like that conference changed the way I approach nonfiction, and energised my writing practice. I wanted desperately to make it to the next one – and now it’s happening.

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I’ve been helping with social media for the conference (hyper-aware of spelling differences, like ‘travelling/traveling’) and blogging on the conference’s own blog up to this point, and am so excited to be blogging the festival. This post is, then, a bookend – preparing you for the posts to come. And not just a bookend for the conference, because the travel keeps going after that.

I haven’t travelled before. Well, I have travelled before. In 2014 I went to Adelaide, Hobart, Launceston, and Newcastle – it was a big year for travelling. But that travelling was small-scale travelling. Non-passport travelling. Get in a car, get on a boat, get on a train, get on a plane. Get to your destination in no more than an hour or two. The travelling I’m about to embark on is more ambitious – get on a plane, stay there for 9 hours. Stop over in a city that’s further from home than you’ve ever been, but don’t be too excited about it because this isn’t The Travelling yet, this is just a thing on the way to The Travelling. Get on another plane and stay there for 12 hours. And then you’re there, but you’re not there.

NonfictioNOW is being held in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is a 10-hour train ride from LA (or a much shorter flight from Phoenix, but what fun is that?). Speakers I’m incredibly excited about include Ander Monson, Roxane Gay, and Maggie Nelson  – writers whose work has surprised and challenged me. The program has many names in common with my Honours reading list – Steven Church, Judith Kitchen, and Brenda Miller. The conference provides insight to the act of writing creative nonfiction in a way that no gathering in Australia (that I’ve seen) does. What does it mean to craft the world? How do we wrangle it, does it need to be wrangled, what are our lenses, and what are the implications of what we write? These are questions the conference will engage with.

Oh, and me! I’m speaking! I’ll be on a panel called ‘Unusual Foods and the Edible Guests’, discussing food writing with wonderful writers Amy Wright, Matthew Gavin Frank, Elena Passarello and Joni Tevis. These writers are all brilliant, and I’m feeling entirely humbled to be part of such a stellar session. I’ll be delivering a 12-minute paper on the idea of writing food memories, and how difficult that can be, and why – and how we might meet that challenge. MFK Fisher suggested that she couldn’t write about food without writing about a yearning for love and security – “We cannot straightly think of one without the others”. It follows that we can’t straightly write it, either – that’s what my paper looks at. At last reading it was 21 minutes long – I’m in the process of editing it to meet the 12 minute brief, but it’s certainly a big challenge in economy of language and clear communication.

When I pitched the trip to the City of Literature Office, I said that I’d like to investigate the ways that nonfiction – particularly creative and experimental nonfiction – is shared. I want to know how it’s published, presented and sent forth into the world. There are only a handful of journals in Australia which really embrace unconventional nonfiction writing, and I hope to come home armed with some knowledge and ideas that will help open us up to the form. Many, many thanks go to the Melbourne City of Literature Office for making the trip possible, and to the organisers of NonfictioNOW, who’ve embraced my small involvement with all generosity.

After the conference, I’ll be travelling across the United States with my partner over almost four weeks: Las Vegas, New Orleans, Washington DC, New York. I’ll be blogging the trip, and meeting new people, and trying to write meaningfully about the significance of what I learn.

I have many hopes attached to this trip, and I’m not sure they’re all reasonable. Now that I’m only a handful of days away from leaving Australia for a while, I’m realising that I hope a great deal of my own travel: I hope it helps me meet new people. I hope those people are open to sharing with me. I hope I deliver a good paper. I hope I can meet the world for what it is, and move outside my own small universe. I hope travel makes me simultaneously more and less: more open, more knowledgeable, more capable. Less inward-looking. Less scared. I’m full of questions.

Tomorrow I can get rid of the second hand for counting – there will be only 5 days to go.

#MWF14 is here!

The program for the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival has been released, and it’s a good one.

DAVE EGGERS!
ROBYN DAVIDSON!
HELEN GARNER!
…etc.

The program represents Australian writers at various stages in their careers, from national gems to new kids on the block, as well as bringing some fantastic international writers to our city. This year’s MWF program also involves audiences in exciting ways, making the most of technologies and good old fashions chats. This program also gives people who aren’t in Melbourne proper some great opportunities to hook into the festival life. There are also plenty of free events, for students like me.

A huge congratulations to the whole MWF team for putting out such a balanced, inspired and exciting program.

Festival times are usually pretty hectic times, and I plan to be soaking it all up. Here are a few of my picks, one from each day of the festival:

21st August, 6:30pm –
Helen Garner’s presenting this year’s opening address. I’ve seen her open other things, and she speaks well. She’s both ridiculously famous and very warm, which is a unique and winning combination. I can’t wait to see her speak again.

22nd August, 1pm – 
As a writer of personal essays and memoir, I’m pretty self-involved. MY INTERESTING LIFE! ‘Selfie Culture’ brings Ronnie Scott and Anne Manne together to talk about the inward-looking trend.

23rd August, 11:30am –
Ruth Reichl, the food writer, is known and loved for her food memoirs which detail her foodish experiences from childhood to her editorship of Gourmet magazine and beyond. Earlier this year, Reichl published her first novel, Delicious.

24th August, 5:30pm –
Super-short storeis are hard to do, and Oliver Mol and Angela Meyer are both great at it. I can’t wait to see them in conversation.

25th August, 7:30pm – 
Do you remember the first time? A brilliant group of writers share stories of first at the Toff in Town.

26th August, 6:30pm – 
The DIY food movement pares back all the packeted shit and manufactured ease, in favour of a connection with real, actual food. Alla Wolf-Tasker and Phillippa Grogan, and wine and canapes.

27th August, 7pm – 
One of the many events that leave the city square is the poetry slam with Maxine Beneba Clarke at the Caroline Springs Library. She’s a treat, do yourself a favour and go.

28th August, 8:30pm – 
Maria Popova at Brain Pickings is an absolute champion, who achieves much with very little. Her commitment to amazing content is so admirable, and she always posts worthwhile and interesting stories. She’ll also be talking to Jason Steger at an event called ‘Why I Read’ on 29th August.

29th August, 2:30pm –
The Rereaders are recording live!

30th August, 2:30pm – 
Luke Ryan makes me laugh. Elizabeth Flux makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. Both these people are fantastic, and they’ll be answering questions like “How did you get where you are?”

31st August, 6:00pm –
DAVE EGGERS! The founder of McSweeney’s and author of the much-loved genre-bending A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius returns to Melbourne to deliver the closing address for #MWF14.

 

I’m also really looking forward to the ‘On Board Book Club’, where MWF encourages us to put down our phones and pick up our books, providing reading recommendations for the duration of the festival. I also look forward to ‘Memory Makes Us’, a collaborative live-writing event in the Atrium at Fed Square.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. Please do chase up other events that I’m really excited for including events with Nic Low, Alissa Nutting, Philip Hensher, Benjamin & Michelle Law, James Ley, Omar Musa, Chris Flynn and Eli Glasman. And more. I actually just can’t express how excited I am about all this, and not a little overwhelmed by it all. Main, take-home message: DAVE EGGERS!

Happy booking, I hope to see you around the festival!

Emerging Writers’ Festival Program Highlights

ImageIt’s here! Last Wednesday night the Wheeler Centre packed out for the launch of the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival. This is the festival’s 10th birthday, and its first year under the direction of Sam Twyford-Moore. The program is freakin’ huge, and I’m excited!

Of course, the EWF holds a special place in my heart, as they’ve been immensely supportive toward me, and I interned with them last year. Melbourne’s great for festivals, and EWF is one of the many fantastic literary events happening right through the year. For two weeks in June, the EWF runs panels, workshops, performance events and networking opportunities for emerging writers. It’s a unique opportunity for us baby writers to get a foot in the door, and to meet people fighting the same good fight.

I had to hold off on this post for a few days, just because the program really is so big. I needed to sit down with some tea and a marker, and highlight what I want to attend, and then identify any clashing events, and make tough decisions which might very well change a few times before the actual events.

At this stage, it looks like I’ll be out and about for most of the two weeks of the festival. I won’t go through my entire itinerary, but here’s the things I found particularly exciting, and that I think you shouldn’t miss:

Festival Hub: Thousand Pound Bend. This might sound silly, but since the beloved Rue Bebelons shut down, I was eager to find out where the new watering hole would be. I like the choice of Thousand Pound Bend – it’s cosy, with couches and dim lighting. It’s significantly larger than Rue’s, which probably works in its favour, with EWF crowds no doubt swelling this year as it has each consecutive year since its start. They’ll also be running Late Night Live With Literary Magazines, which could be a great way to discover stuff you didn’t know about before, but also a talking point, and a way to connect with other people (like, strangers, friends you haven’t met yet) at the Festival Hub.

Pop Up Page Parlour. Usually, Page Parlour has been a one-day event in the Atrium at Fed Square. If you miss that one day, you miss out. The pop up idea is great – not only does it give me more opportunities to check out the merch, it also gives those who are selling things there far more exposure. Win-win.

Town Hall Writers’ Conference. This is where writers get together to impart all their secrets. The timetabling gods have looked kindly on this weekend, and I’ve got something highlighted in most blocks, with no clashes. Particularly exciting: The Control Room with Melinda Harvey and Connor Tomas O’Brien; Cutting it Short on short stories; Writing The Personal; and Critical Conditions on the culture of criticism.

Emerging Q & A. An insane panel line-up and an awesome event, I can’t wait to Tweet my way through this bad boy.

And really, really exciting is this year’s addition of The Writers’ Retreat program at the very beautiful Abbotsford Convent. This beautiful setting will be overrun by writers for the weekend, and a lot of the program is free. I’m most excited about seeing Kate Richards on the panel for Symposium: Writing and Health on Sunday, and Saturday’s panel on Writing About Food, which will include the tiny and loveable Romy Ash – who at last week’s Erotic Fan Fiction night at Wheeler, shared a story about stuffing a food critic like a chicken.

The word is that tickets are already selling fast, as EWF seems to be very much on the radar of Melbourne’s cultural calendar. Happy Birthday EWF, happy first festival STM, and a massive congratulations to the whole dedicated and hardworking EWF team for putting together such a brilliant program!

Andy Allen at Dymocks VG

Sometimes my work does some pretty rad stuff. Like this:

Tomorrow morning, from 10am-11.15am, Andy Allen (most recent winner of Masterchef!) is coming in to do a cooking demonstration and book signing for his cookbook, The Next Element. You will be able to nibble on Masterchef food and dribble on Andy Allen’s manly, stubbly face.

The details:
Saturday, 22nd December 2012
10-11.15am.
Andy Allen book signing and food demonstration/tasting.
Dymocks, Victoria Gardens – 620 Victoria Street, Richmond.

Go do it. It’ll be fun.

MasterChef Front CoverHIGH RES

Crazy Price

It’s difficult to keep up with all the many, many publication outlets for poetry, short stories and essays. This is why Black Inc’s “Best Australian…” (Stories, Essays and Poems) each year is so handy. There’s bound to be a bunch of stuff you’ve missed, that your net just doesn’t catch, and it’s great to work through these collections. Like all collections, there are always biases, and some of the same names pop up over and over, but they are pretty great.

This little #loveattack was prompted by this morning’s Christmas Bargain email from Readings – each day in the lead-up to Christmas, Readings are doing an online-only deal on a different book. Today’s is the set of all three “Best Australian…” books for $50. Even with my discount from work (25%), I can’t get them that cheap. So I’ve ordered mine, and would urge you to do the same.

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