Arts / Why writers surge to be Noted

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Noted festival’s artistic director Lucy Nelson… “We noticed that the older people get, the richer their writing is because of their life experiences, but we don’t create much space for them.” Photo by Dream Pieces

LITERARY festivals are all the go in Australia and nowhere more obviously than in Canberra.

Readers will be aware of the Canberra Writers Festival launched in 2016, but not so many will know that all the while another significant event has been going on in the form of Noted.
In early May it will be time for the third time round for Noted, which began as a small, home-grown event in 2015 and has now exploded into something quite significant with a staggering 100 writers putting their hands up to participate in 2017.

Last year’s Noted festival. Photo by Dream Pieces

The festival is one of our luckier arts organisations in having received project funding from artsACT but nonetheless, as artistic director Lucy Nelson told “CityNews”: “We are a tiny team”.
Be that as it may, they’re going ahead under the slogan “Inclusive, Innovative” with a program that would be the envy of larger events.

For instance, they’re spearheading “First Nations” and “Emerging Older Writers” residencies to make good their promise of inclusivity.

Nelson’s day job is as an arts marketing and communication officer for a large statutory body in Canberra. Of coming to Canberra seven years ago, she says: “I really loved the independent arts community in Canberra, it’s really special, and so I got involved as much as I could”. As well as doing some freelance writing, she started new events and Noted was one of them.
One of the first principles in setting up an event was to fill gaps.

“We noticed that the older people get, the richer their writing is because of their life experiences, but we don’t create much space for them,” she says.

At “LitHop” 2016. Photo by Dream Pieces

Applying the fairness principle to the opposite end of the age spectrum, Nelson approached the Stella Prize office to set up, for the first time, “Girls Write Up”, a day-long festival for teenagers to take place on May 6.

“It’s targeted to kids, arming them with the tools of the language to stand up for themselves, through workshops, panels, slam poetry, songwriting… it’s really exciting, they walk away armed with knowledge and confidence,” Nelson says, adding that for much younger visitors there will be a children’s area featuring workshops and activities.

While she reports a good list of “First Nations” writers, she says: “There are not enough, we must improve.”

To this end she and her team have engaged Delphine Fraser as creative producer in that area. The successful applicant for the Emerging First Nations Writer’s Residency will spend a week with a mentor at the National Library of Australia, with accommodation in Canberra provided. As you’d expect, the festival abounds in unusual projects, such as a lecture about law, class and homosexuality at the Glebe Park public toilets in which artist Aidan Delaney looks at three case studies spanning from 1894 to 2013.

Another is a sculpture project, “Pulpture”, spearheaded by Blemish Books, Lesley Boland and Nicci Haynes, using the regrettably large number of unsold books by ACT writers to create a work of great beauty at the Tuggeranong Hyperdome.

The Indie Publishing Fair at Noted. Photo by Dream Pieces

Then there’s “Lots-o-Lingo!” where visitors can learn the basics from a native speaker who will help them write their name in Farsi, recite a French verse or order a beer in Polish.
Nelson says two flagship events will dominate the five-day program – the Independent Publishing Fair on Sunday, May 7, and “LitHop”, an epic bar crawl around Civic on May 6 pursuing literary themes.

Underlying the whole festival is the notion of empowerment. Nelson has noticed that so many of Canberra’s writers are reluctant to call themselves just that, “but the act of doing so empowers that – all you have to do to call yourself a writer is to write”.

Noted, around Canberra, May 3-7. Program details at notedfestival.com

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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