I only experienced one and a half days of the Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015 – but it was such a beautifully curated (by the brilliant Laura Kroetsch and her team) feast of a literary festival that it feels I was there for days. The audiences were big and keen, the queues for author signings the longest I’ve ever seen. My first sight of the festival was the sign below and a line of people weaving up the hill waiting to have copies of Bad Feminist signed by its author, the essayist, novelist and cyber sensation Roxane Gay. It boded well. Because of my own bookish events, I was only able to see two whole sessions – one with US novelist and alt-country musician Willy Vlautin, the other with journalist and biographer David Marr – and they were both wonderful.
Willy Vlautin was talking to Kate de Goldi about his latest novel The Free. Vlautin grew up in Reno and the Southern accents and lilts of his voice were captivating. As were his stories about hanging around with tough old drunks and drifters as a teenager, rather than chasing girls like his older brother did, and his excellent knack of characterising modern ‘saints’ (his word), for example, the mid-career Paul Newman, because that Newman always played men who were kind to women. And of course, Vlautin added, he was also pretty good looking. It seemed (from the massive queue of people waiting to have their books signed) that most people were discovering Vlautin for the first time – and they were hooked. David Marr was giving the annual Hazel Rowley Memorial Lecture, established to honour the esteemed literary biographer Hazel Rowley (1951-2011). Marr regaled the crowd about the art of biography literary and political, about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and the importance of ‘character’ in politics. Marr was at his urbane, incisive and witty best. He concluded by awarding the Hazel Rowley Memorial Fellowship for 2015 to journalist, broadcaster and literary maven Caroline Baum. It was a thrilling moment. Baum received her award with great emotion and spoke movingly about the connection between her late beloved father and the biography she’s working on, about Lucie Dreyfus. She said her project ‘seeks to restore Lucie Dreyfus to her rightful place in history’. Lucie was married to Alfred Dreyfus, the French artillery officer at the centre of one of the most divisive political scandals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After hearing her talk about it, I eagerly await Baum’s biography and wish her all the best with her work on it. I also eagerly await any future Adelaide Writers’ Festival I’m lucky enough to attend. It is something very special.