On writing’s lure: AAWP’s 2018 annual conference, Perth

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Project lead Dr Glenn Morrison shares his reflections on the 2018 AAWP conference. 

The 2018 AAWP annual conference Peripheral Visions is without doubt the best I’ve been to, and a credit to Curtin-based organisers Rachael Robertson, Catherine Noske and team, as well as the AAWP executive, who managed to run a fun AGM (true story!).

Ostensibly I was there to give a paper on The Borderlands Project, a research project to establish a literary journal of the Northern Territory.

The paper was enthusiastically received, a reaction that has seen me return to Alice Springs with a satchel full of ideas, feedback notes, new contacts and upcoming interviews to confirm.

But I also treasured the 170 or so friendly folk, great food and rich and diverse selection of papers and topics for discussion, all in the leafy surrounds of Curtin University campus.

The discussions I was party to (for there were so many) ranged from ideas of home in the culturally complex multiverse of Singapore by five very congenial Creative Writing Masters students from Lasalle College of the Arts, to the development of professional writing education at Curtin and ground-breaking research into the potential for the sharing and shaping of tertiary assessment rubrics in consultation with the students themselves.

There were also the pluses and perils of safe spaces and trigger warnings when managing trauma, as well as more familiar literary criticism, including of Randolph Stowe, writing Australia’s Outback, and an excellent paper on Matthew Flinders and identity by Flinders University’s outgoing editor of Transnational Literature, Gillian Dooley.

And that’s not acknowledging standout keynote speakers, including authors Kim Scott, Anna Goldsworthy and Anne Aly.

Proceedings had begun auspiciously with a warm opening from Kim Scott on Wednesday morning at the WA State Library in the heart of Perth.

Kim spoke of rediscovering the simple “lure of writing” in the midst of what is perhaps an inevitable pull toward the political in recent times.

All of our efforts as writers might remember that words are merely “air fashioned by breath”, something Kim suggests might see the Indigenous oral tradition eventually recognised as a fitting and capable preparation for literacy.

Such knowledge may also inform our ongoing struggle to write playfully, even when, as Yeats puts it, the “ceremony of innocence is drowned in chaos.”

Friday began with a most delightful oration from pianist and writer Anna Goldsworthy, warmly and deftly drawing links between music, performance and writing.

So many takeaways, some excerpted from her multi-award winning memoir Piano Lessons: chapter structure as concert program, the writer who listens to the cadence of a sentence, massaging its feel and rhythm until an “internal tuning fork is stilled”.

And a snippet of unbeatable editing advice from her father, that the fish John West rejects is what makes John West the best!

And finally, an overdue voice of empathy in Australian politics from terrorism expert and WA Labor member for Cowan (and I swear, part-time comic), Anne Aly.

Also a memoirist, Anne explained her process as being that she writes well on airplanes.

Which is the only way she managed a busy political schedule to finish the first draft of her 2018 memoir Finding My Place: From Cairo to Canberra — The irresistible story of an irrepressible woman, a work of 29 chapters drafted on 29 flights to Canberra.

It was a great pleasure to spend a few days in the company of such sincere and oft-times deeply funny people doing something so vital to our well-being and future.

Categories: Research, scholarship