Spotlight On: Digital Writers' Festival

What are the opportunities and challenges of running an online festival

This week, we’ve teamed up with the Digital Writers’ Festival in Melbourne to facilitate conversations about digital writing and the online collaboration between writers around the world. Each day this week we’ll be sharing and profiling conversations between writers and panel discussions from the festival.

Here, Festival Director Jane Howard introduces the festival and discusses the opportunities and challenges of running an online festival. 

The Digital Writers’ Festival is an online-first writers’ festival dedicated to celebrating the work of writers from Australia and across the world, and fostering new relationships through collaboration between writers, wherever they may be.

The festival is run by the Emerging Writers’ Festival, which takes place annually in Melbourne in physical spaces throughout the city. A UNESCO City of Literature, Melbourne’s writing scene is pulsing and diverse, and the winter festival is an incredible time for emerging writers of all ages working in all genres to come together. It’s an important event for new Australian writers to forge connections, to find excitement in their writing community, and to experience speaking about their work for an audience - often for the first time. 

But being based a certain place at a certain time, there are so many people who can’t join in on the festivities.

'What does it mean to be a writer in online spaces?'

Moving online for DWF, we wanted to expand our audience and our reach, creating room for conversations we can’t have when bound to a place, and finding audiences who can’t join us here. 2016 marked the third DWF and we continue to ask ourselves: what does a writers’ festival look like when it takes place online? We stream panels on YouTube Live, host workshops in Google Hangouts, publish digital work on our website, find other spaces to lurk in the world wide web, and tweet with a healthy dose of gifs. Trying to re-answer that question every year is part of the fun.

At the centre of our programming are panels bringing together artists from their offices or their bedrooms to talk all things writing: from what it means to write criticism today, to being a young editor, to making podcasts - and topics beyond and between. In 2016, many of our panels kept returning to one central question: what does it mean to be a writer in online spaces? Our artists are largely - but by no means entirely - young and have spent their entire writing careers online. The internet isn’t explored as a strange world onto itself, but the world our writers live in and navigate their lives through every day. Why not take part in a writers’ festival there, too?

As part of the festival this year, we worked with the International Literature Showcase to bring together four pairs of writers. The internet is amazing for enabling conversations between writers from around the world - but even within this space, writers still need to find each other for conversations to happen.

Melbourne Digital Writers' Festival - computer

These writers, one half of each pair from the UK and one half from Australia, all have interesting convergences in their practice – graphic novelists, technologists, editor, writer – and we wanted to see what would happen if we simply asked them to have a conversation about who they are, what they do, and how they do it. They all found different ways to speak: over Skype calls, over Google Hangouts, over email and, in one coincidence of timing, over a squeaky wooden table in London.

'We'll be sharing events that asked questions relevant to anyone thinking about what literature is when lifted off the page.'

They spoke about feminism, collaboration, communities, public arts funding, building mobile apps, vines, and place. Taken alongside the rest of the festival, we can see a strong and exciting writing community whose work, however it intersects with the internet, will be exciting to watch for many years to come.

Alongside these, we’ll be sharing other activity from the festival, events that asked questions relevant to anyone thinking about what literature is when lifted off the page. There will be the limits and possibilities of digital writing, traversing the print/digital divide, publishing digitally, and what the internet might be and do in the future.

One of the great joys of producing the Digital Writers’ Festival is to spend eleven days shining a light on these topics, and for them to remain online to be accessed and discussed over and over again. 

About Jane Howard

Jane Howard is the director of the Digital Writers’ Festival, a contributing editor at Kill Your Darlings Journal, and a freelance arts journalist and critic with a focus on performance. Her work has appeared in publications including The Guardian and ABC Arts Online, and her experimental digital criticism projects have been commissioned by The Lifted Brow and the Performance and Art Development Agency. From Adelaide and now based in Melbourne, she has previously worked with organisations including the Adelaide Film Festival and the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.