The Wheeler Centre has become home to 20 writers this year, thanks to our Hot Desk Fellowships, supported by the Readings Foundation.
Each writer has received a $1000 stipend and a desk at the Wheeler Centre for a period of two months, to work on their writing projects – which have ranged from crime novels set in meth labs to memoir essays about pregnancy and cancer, from portrait poems of Melbourne to translations of Turkish poets. And the distractions we’ve provided refuge from have included needful babies, hungry kids, office dogs, housemates with smelly washing and the anxiety of being a trespasser in a university library.
Now, it’s time to welcome our final round of Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellows, as they have move into their desks this week.
Oliver Mol is working on his debut novel, Transparent, a darkly comedic, satirical novel about the gap between the personalities we project and who we really are.
Told from the perspective of three different characters, Transparent explores ‘whether the twentysomethings of today are as vacuous as they make themselves out to be’ and delves to discover the real feelings that lie beneath their projections of coolness.
Oliver hopes the book will resonate with a maturing Gen Y.
Oliver says he uses method acting to understand his characters’ thoughts and feelings, so the opportunity to write in Melbourne’s CBD, where the book is set, will contribute to making those characters rounded.
‘A novel is an unwieldy beast at the best of times,’ says Georgia Powick. ‘A first attempt is an exciting prospect.’
She hopes to have completed the first draft of her young adult fantasy novel, Amelia Grimes, by the end of the year.
The major themes of the novel are the dangers to society of eradicating differences in people, the need to belong and responsibility. The novel will ask: to what degree are we responsible for others?
Amelia Grimes is set in another world, in an institution for lost children called St Balthus. Amelia will join with a group of other displaced children to fight the powers behind St Balthus – until she’s faced with a terrible choice. Will she abandon the group and return home, or sacrifice herself for the greater good?
Georgia is looking forward to being part of a community of writers in her time as a Hot Desk Fellow – and to having ‘easy access to dumplings’.
Samuel Cooney is working on a novella, Trickle and Trace, that he began as part of a master’s degree at Sydney Consortium.
Though this would be his first full-length published work, Samuel has a varied publication history, including fiction published in Sleepers and forthcoming in McSweeneys, and non-fiction published in Meanjin and Griffith Review. He is currently editor of The Lifted Brow.
Trickle and Trace looks at what happens to a person once they become so ensconced in the virtual or digital worlds they’ve constructed using the internet that they begin to lose their sense of identity, or self.
The structure ‘tips its hat’ to short works like Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and M.J. Hyland’s This is How. Like these works, it will focus on a central character as they cross a boundary of socially acceptable behaviour, then double its focus to hold up a lens to society as it judges the central character not on the act itself, but for not showing the appropriate amount of remorse.
Rachel Hennessy, a published novelist and short story writer, is working on a non-fiction essay about pregnancy, miscarriage, and narratives of motherhood.
Rachel had a miscarriage in January of this year and has close friends who’ve had the same experience. She plans to use this personal experience as a starting point to explore a range of issues.
She’ll explore the literary feminist idea that while sex is a biological given, gender is a socially constructed category – which ‘effectively leaves the body out of the investigation as to how women and men experience gender’. During her own experience of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and miscarriage, Rachel has seen how the body ‘resurfaces as a force to be reckoned with’ in motherhood.
Rachel will explore the absence of this type of body in societal images and public narratives. ‘There is no space for the grieving female, the exhausted mother, the depressed mother.’
She hopes to enter this essay in Australian Book Review’s Calibre Prize, so will be writing up to 10,000 words.
Tim Richards is writing a book about Poland’s Communist past and changed present, and his own relationship with the nation over the past two decades – as a resident, teacher and travel writer.
Stalin’s Cow: Travels Through Post-Communist Poland takes its title from a quote by Josef Stalin: ‘Applying communism to Poland is like trying to saddle a cow.’
It’s undeniable that there’s been an air of confidence and prosperity in Poland in recent years, even in the face of the current global recession. Despite the EU’s economic troubles, Poland itself has weathered the storm relatively well (none of its banks crashed, for example), and as a result the communist years of scarcity and make-do are being left far behind both in reality and memory.
However, the Cold War era is not that easily disposed of; everywhere across Poland are remnants of the days of enforced socialism, from the tiny ‘milk bar’ cafeterias which were once the state-run supplier of the working man’s cheap meal, to the mighty alienating structure of the Stalinist-era Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
To an Australian, having lived a sheltered life in the West during Poland’s imprisonment behind the Iron Curtain, these relics of communism are awe-inspiring, as are the stories of everyday Poles who lived through those times.
Anita Sethi was an international writer in residence and ambassador at the Emerging Writers Festival this year. During her residency, she gave a Lunchbox/Soapbox talk at the Wheeler Centre, which inspired her to apply for a Hot Desk Fellowship.
‘I found it an extremely stimulating experience, both the space of the Centre and the chance to meet with audience members and the resident organisations,’ she says.
Anita is working on a novel with the working title, ‘Shanti’, the Hindu word for peace.
‘During my time in Melbourne, I was greatly inspired by the community of writers I met … and by the city itself – its history, diversity and architecture,’ she says. ‘Melbourne has a fascinating history of migration, which is a strong theme in my own novel.’
Anita says that she has produced some of her best creative writing while working as an international writer in residence, inspired by being out of context. ‘The geographical distance from the country in which I was born paradoxically allowed me greater perspective.’
Melinda Harvey is one of our current Wheeler Centre Hot Desk fellows, supported by the Readings Foundation. She’s working on a creative non-fiction essay called ‘Lip Service’ (part memoir, part literary criticism), which will explore the experience of being pregnant and a cancer patient at the same time and ponder the truism that literature offers consolation. Since she’s taken up her fellowship, she’s been approached by publishers who are interested in her project – and in turning it into a book.
We spoke to Melinda about what she’s working on, her strange relationship with memoir, her passion for literature, and writing both within and against the ‘Big C’ genre.
What made you decide to write your essay?
I’ve always had a liking for the third-person essay as a genre. I like its ability to talk about a personal experience, but also the way it creates bridges that connect personal experience to bigger questions. I also like its size. I like the way that it can disappear more readily than a book: It gets published, people read it and find it, but then ..
It’s not out there on bookshop shelves for a long time.
Exactly. This is how I imagined I would deal with the bizarre set of circumstances that happened to me. I felt the need to make a private sense of it, and on a complete whim, I put this application in. I didn’t really know if I wanted to write this essay or not. Getting this fellowship gave me the incentive, and the encouragement I desperately needed, to see where it went.
The fact that my cancer diagnosis and treatment became my pregnancy; the two things have been extremely hard to separate. My experience of a pregnancy is now the experience of an illness.
What is striking me now, trying to write this essay, is how little I actually asked my doctors. Or how little I actually know about what happened to me.
I was just in a kind of shock. Maybe this leads into the difficulties of writing this essay, but I’ve been shocked at how much of a good girl I was during that time. I let the expert tell me what I needed to do and I did it.
What I’m finding, writing this essay, is that I’m actually quite bored by my own story. It’s not that I don’t want to go over it; I’m actually someone who likes to talk about things as they happen to me. I don’t feel reluctant to reveal things. But I’m bored by my own story. And I’ve also discovered I have a terrible memory. So I’m actually the worst possible person to be writing anything that involves an account of my own past. I swore off writing a diary as a teenager because I thought it was too self-indulgent.
And you’re writing a memoir?
I know! But, that said, I don’t know how much of a memoir it is. It’s an excuse to write about something I do feel rather passionate about and that is, I guess, the uses of literature in a world in which we might not think it has any anymore. I’m discovering that I’m in a genre of cancer patients who talk about reading.
You’ve read the Brenda Walker book, Reading by Moonlight?
Yes I have. I read it while I was sick. But I’ve since discovered that there are other books too. The one I’m reading right now is Susan Gubar’s book, Memoirs of a Debulked Woman. She’s a feminist literary scholar, she co-wrote The Madwoman in the Attic. She had ovarian cancer. These narratives seem to be ones of reading giving patients solace in a time of crisis. But my own experience is that it didn’t.
So, while I’m having this daily conversation with people like Brenda Walker and Susan Gubar in my head, and they’re terrific company, I feel like I might be challenging some of their assumptions about how useful reading might be.
The personal is my excuse to write about what is a challenge for me on a daily basis: to supply justifications for the place of literature in the academy where it’s getting squeezed out. This essay is a sort of a swan song, before I get kicked out of universities, because I don’t know how much longer literature’s got in these kinds of places anymore.
Because of the focus on things being directed towards finding a job afterwards?
Exactly. The discourse around universities is all around skills. Literature tries to make that argument, but that makes us no different from history or from philosophy – they’re kind of teaching very similar skills. So the specific kind of knowledge that we might be discussing or offering, not many arguments are made about that. And the ones that are made aren’t very convincing.
Is it difficult that you’re writing this to argue for the worth of literature and yet your own experience is that it wasn’t a consolation?
Yes, it is. But I think I’ve decided that the piece is more a pondering. It’s not a polemic about the use of literature. I’ll ask the question of why we think literature should have a use. And who has said that it does? And why has it worked for them? So, at the moment, the essay is structured around little scenes where I do some kind of empirical research on this theme.
One thing that I do in the essay is that I have bibliotherapy. You know, Alain De Botton’s School of Life, they offer a service, a one-on-one service where you can go and see a bibliotherapist. He or she is basically a therapist who hears about your problems, then offers you a reading list. And it costs 80 pounds. Is prescribed reading better than the kind of things you seek out for yourself?
So yes, I’m trying always to link what happened to me to something I can say about reading. And that’s the way that I am hoping that I won’t be simply navel gazing and also I won’t bore myself stupid writing my story.
Do you think you’re bored with your story because it’s the kind of experience that you do have to retell to people?
I think it’s my natural predilection not to be very interested in myself, or at least it’s a trained disinterest in myself. As a teenager, I didn’t know about Susan Sontag, but I think I had a very similar attitude to her. I think she was someone who wanted to be interested in things out there, and didn’t want to be interested in herself. There was this kind of decision not to be that kind of a woman. I think that’s why we get books like her AIDS book and her cancer book. Illness as Metaphor: she is processing her own her own illness, but at a remove.
But I do realise that what is enticing about readers for my story is not, in the first instance anyway, my thoughts on The Magic Mountain. Rather, it’s the anomalous set of circumstances I found myself in, where I got married, fell pregnant and had major surgery for cancer all in the space of just over a month.
You’ve been approached by three different publishers to turn this into a book. How did that come about?
I think it’s because the Wheeler Centre put something on their website, because I have not approached anybody. My friends know what’s happened to me, but I’m not out there in the world telling people about it or what I am writing.
Have you read the Joshua Cody memoir, [sic]?
Yes, I read it while I was sick, actually. I liked it because I liked how aggressively he was trying to run against some of the usual tropes of the Big C genre. So it did appeal to me at the time.
I wished I could have been as wild as him. Being pregnant and also the particular nature of my cancer – having surgery on your lip doesn’t allow you to have much intimacy, not spoken intimacy, not physical intimacy either. I had to learn to talk again. And to eat again and drink again. I was almost jealous because his cancer was hidden.
This is a theme of what I’m writing: the visibility of what happened to me. People tell me ‘it’s not that bad, you’d never notice if you didn’t look closely’. I know that. But tomorrow is exactly a year since my last surgery. It looked a lot fiercer than this for a long time; there were a lot of bandages. I didn’t know whether I was going to be stuck inside my house for the rest of my life or not.
So I was jealous of him. I thought, you have what I have, but you go out in the world and nobody knows that you do.
So it was both about the visibility of it and the fact that it was impeding how you communicated with people.
What I’ve noticed while writing this essay is that what I’m totally hung up on (and was during my pregnancy too) is the disfigurement my cancer has caused. That I was told that I’d potentially have a brain tumour within months was nothing! Compared with the thought that I would forever be marked by this experience.
Which is why having a baby at the same time was so strange. Pregnancy is marked on my body forever, but in the most bizarre kind of a way. It’s on my face. I find that I always tell people immediately, so they’re not wondering what has happened to me. I confess immediately.
And going back to Joshua Cody, I was pleased to be reading something that doesn’t make the ill person a saint who learns something through their experiences.
I don’t agree that having an illness and emerging from an illness makes you a better person, or somehow you’re more tapped in to the meaning of life. In fact, for me, the opposite has happened. I feel an even stronger sense that life is absurd. And that there are no reasons for things.
I feel confirmed in my earlier opinion, which is sort of an ancient Greek one. What does Shakespeare say in King Lear? ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.’
I never had a problem with the question why me? I thought, why not me? Bad things happen to good people all the time – in fact, worse things happen.
I guess the thing is that there’s not a universal experience of illness, or of any kind of disaster that happens to you. You bring who you are to any experience. So, if you’re a religious person or a person who thinks everything happens for a reason, maybe you’re going to be more confirmed in that. Whereas for you, if you already had that belief that was the opposite, maybe it’s natural that you were confirmed in that?
You’re further forged in the fire of whatever it is that you are? Yes.
I never read memoir. It wasn’t a genre I particularly liked. I believed in fiction. I thought people should make up more stuff and stop putting their lives out there. I saw that interview with Chris Flynn, where he said, you should only write a memoir if you’ve gone to the moon or climbed a mountain legless. That was me. I read that interview really guiltily, thinking he’s saying exactly what I used to believe. And I still kind of believe it.
One of the things I noticed about my reading habits when I was sick was that fiction didn’t do it for me anymore. I wanted fact suddenly. I was certainly looking for things that would talk to my experience and I couldn’t find anything. My doctors couldn’t point to someone of my age who has had what I had. Old men get it.
Memoir, I wasn’t interested in it and didn’t read it, so this has been a huge learning curve for me.
When you say you were drawn to fact, were you drawn to looking at memoirs then?
Any kind of fact. I was online, looking for accounts … listservs and discussion boards. Anyone who had this kind of experience. Reading blogs by people who had things taken off their face. But also doing really morbid stuff as well, like fixating on acid victims. Feeling like their stories were the stuff I needed to be reading right then.
Because you were in the world of your experience, so you didn’t feel you needed to escape somewhere else, you needed to understand what you were going through?
I tried to escape but I couldn’t. The book I tried to escape with was The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst. These people, with names like Daphne and Cecil, I couldn’t do it. That’s one of the things I’m interested in. Why is it, when we’re going through something, we want to hear or read stuff that is the same? Why don’t we want to disappear in something that will get us out of our experience? Why do we want to remain in it?
That is interesting. I wonder if that’s partly about wanting to feel not alone. And seeing how other people deal with experiences. Maybe you might see something you haven’t thought of – so you might learn something. Or that you’ll find something that is exactly what happened to you, so you won’t feel weird or alone. What do you think?
Yes. It’s a return to adolescent reading in a way. As a teenager, you’re looking for stuff that will tell you you’re not mad. Or you might be the black sheep in your family, but you’re not weird. In tutorials, I say to my students, who say things like ‘I don’t like the character’, that that’s juvenile, that’s not what reading is about. You don’t only read to find yourself; reading can do other things. But in illness, or extreme situations, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re reading to find yourself again.
It’s a different kind of reading, isn’t it? It is reading for a purpose. Have you read the Maria Tumarkin essay in Meanjin, on reading for a purpose?
Yes. I’m hoping to talk to her one day. I like that piece a lot, but I think I’m arguing against her, and that’s fine.
I’m curious. What is it you’re arguing against?
I read that essay, and have read other things that have shown me that people in dire situations have found reading to be quite helpful. But for me, it wasn’t – even though I’m someone who should find literature helpful in such a situation.
Even though I should know my way around a bookshelf enough to choose the right things to read, I found that I didn’t. I’m wondering why we think it should. Why do we think that literature should serve that purpose? Why make that argument?
It’s interesting that you say that, but you did look for consolation in literature.
I did, yes. But I didn’t find it.
In the stage of recovery I’m in now, it’s helpful. But just in that moment, the moment of crisis, it does not help. It did not help me.
The Readings Foundation supports the development of literacy, community work and the arts through annual grants. Applications are welcomed from Victorian individuals and organisations with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status.
Applications for The Readings Foundation 2013 grants must be lodged by 5pm on October 31, 2012. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Today, we launch our new long-form review series, The Long View. Wheeler Centre director Michael Williams explains the thinking behind the series.
One of the most frustrating things about working at the Wheeler Centre is coming up with names for things. Now, a few months into our third year of programming, we’re doing at least half a dozen events a week, with numerous series and programmes, each of which needs a snappy name to give an idea of what it is and why it exists. It’s harder than naming a child (how much easier it would be if that panel series could be called Henry, or that lecture Persephone) or a rock band (I’m reserving the name Dewey Decimal, just in case). It can be tear-your-hair-out material.
In launching our new fortnightly series of current affairs events we agonised for weeks, trying to come up with a name that captured everything we wanted from it. We know what it is: a series that moves beyond the limitations of contemporary media, resists the glibness of the 24-hour news cycle, the inanity of constant commentary and opinion. A series that presents a more measured, more considered, more deliberative alternative. In The Fifth Estate we finally found that title: one that we feel captures the ambition and the complexity of the project.
But along the way, one of the ideas we kept coming back to was that of the ‘long view’, a concept that underpins so much of what we’re trying to do with the Centre. A long view denotes the luxury of perspective; of a broader context.
In establishing the Wheeler Centre, our team has constantly had to think about both our short term priorities and programming, and also the longer term goals and visions for what we’re trying to achieve. We believe passionately that the role of a Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas should go beyond merely housing our six resident organisations and coming up with a public programme of events. We believe there are other gaps to be filled and conversations to be held, and that there are ideas to be promoted and explored in ways other than through people sitting on a stage talking.
In 2010, we held a week-long series of events exploring the state of arts criticism in this country. Considering the worlds of books and theatre, music, visual arts and cinema, our panels reflected on the ways in which a limited or constrained critical culture held back our artists and our arts. One of the recurring themes was the shortage of outlets for long-form criticism and reviewing, a form of cultural commentary that all our panellists identified as essential for supporting rich artistic expression.
The week was provocative, thought-provoking and ultimately – as all good events seem to do – left us with a palpable sense that there was work to be done. There are amazing reviewers and critics in this country, doing extraordinary work in both conventional media outlets and through new and emerging channels. But the fact remains that the opportunities for publication of this criticism are becoming fewer and farther between. Newspaper sections devoted to arts criticism grow increasingly thin. Dedicated and specialist magazines and journals are finding the publishing environment ever more perilous.
So it’s with delight that we announce that, with the support of Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), we’ve commissioned ten long-form pieces of literary criticism for publication on this website over the next few months.
We think adopting a long view when it comes to considering and discussing the world of books, writing and ideas frees us up to dig deeper, to better understand the context into which new voices are publishing and the nature of the tradition to which they belong. We will feature contributions from critics and novelists, journalists and academics, encouraging readers and critics to take the time to consider our literature with a little more depth.
Plus, it gives us the chance to resurrect a name we otherwise weren’t using. So it’s win/win.
In The Long View’s first essay, Brilliant Careers: A Quintet of Australian Writers, Elisabeth Holdsworth reflects on Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead, Shirley Hazzard, Helen Garner and Delia Falconer.
It was a big year for the journalists and pundits among us. Julie Posetti spoke on how social media is changing journalism, Guy Rundle eviscerated the new tabloid racialism and Bruce Guthrie was optimistic about newspapers' future despite his own grimly comic experiences. Jane Sullivan and Mary Delahunty spoke about the life of the creative journo, Caroline Brothers spoke about displaced children while Thomas Friedman discussed US decline. Media coverage of Lindsay Tanner’s book on the dumbing down of democracy only served to prove his point. Here’s the video of his Wheeler Centre appearance with George Megalogenis. We took a look at how the media’s obsession with opinion polls is affecting the political culture. Our ‘Taking Liberties With the Press’ and ‘Gagging for Freedom’ events saw distinguished panels of guests debating the ethics of the trade.
Perhaps the two single biggest stories of the year were, in a way, as Australian as Vegemite. The scandal that came to be known as Hackgate saw the Murdoch family-controlled News empire begin to fray at the edges – live on TV, described as a “triumph for investigative reporting”. Venerable tabloid News of the World was closed down, and staff made their feelings known in the newspaper’s last-ever crossword. The scandal spilled into some of News Corp’s other domains, including Australia. Robert Manne spoke about his Quarterly Essay critique of Rupert Murdoch’s national broadsheet, The Australian, at the Wheeler Centre. Ironically, it has since transpired that the crime that cracked the story open – the hacking of the phone messages of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler – may not have been committed by News of the World journalists after all.
The other big story was, of course, the continuing fallout of the WikiLeaks affair. We asked the question, ‘Does WikiLeaks matter?’, while UK journalist Barbara Gunnell described Julian Assange as a rebel, public nuisance and dreamer. We looked at how WikiLeaks has changed the world while WikiLeaks itself, of course, was being brought to the brink of closing down by a financial blockade.
The Wheeler Centre’s third annual grand gala event at the Melbourne Town Hall will feature some our finest writers telling stories on the theme of belief. The Gala, which kicks off the Wheeler Centre year and marks the start of the centre’s first programme, will be held on Saturday 11 February.
In 2012, the Gala will be themed ‘Stories to Believe In’ and, as always, will feature some of Australia’s best storytellers, including Kaz Cooke, Tony Birch, Elliot Perlman, Lally Katz and Alice Pung.
The night involves 12 writers, each taking the stage at Melbourne Town Hall in turn to tell a story. For our theme this year, we’ve asked writers to choose a story that in some way illustrates something about a deeply held belief. The theme can encompass the political and the spiritual, the personal and the philosophical. It can be about anything from an ethical code to the importance of a good banana cake recipe. It can be personal or a story about someone else, real or imagined. It can be heartfelt or frivolous.
As in previous years, ticket prices will be $20 ($12 concession) and all profits from the night will be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Fund.
If the Wheeler Centre was a bar and café, what would it look like? We like to think it would look just like The Moat, a bar and café located in the basement level underneath the Wheeler Centre premises at 176 Little Lonsdale Street. Currently open from noon ‘til late Monday to Saturday, The Moat is the perfect place to chill out before and after Wheeler Centre events, or to escape the city bustle during the day and into the evening – whether you’re up for a good conversation with friends or just after a quiet nook to read a book.
The menu is delicious, the wine list is mesmerising, the décor is warmly intimate, there’s free wifi (using the State Library network) – and there’s an astroturfed courtyard for those warm summer days and nights. The Moat will open for breakfast from Monday, 5 December and will be an occasional Wheeler Centre venue next year.
Two awards that in previous years were announced at the same time as the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were not awarded at last night’s dinner, but they will continue to be awarded in slightly different contexts. The next biennial prize for Indigenous Writing will return next year and be announced to coincide with the Wheeler Centre’s opening Gala event on 11 February 2012. The annual prize for an Unpublished Manuscript is resting this year but will return to coincide with the Emerging Writers' Festival in 2012.
Last year, as part of the prize in the Unpublished Manuscript category, the Wheeler Centre announced fellowships for each of the three shortlisted authors, with a space to work on those manuscripts in the Wheeler Centre and an allowance for the two shortlisted authors who didn’t take home the prize. The Wheeler Centre Fellows were Peggy Frew, Michelle Aung Thin and Andrew Nette.
Those fellowships were made possible through the generous assistance of the Readings Foundation, which has expanded its support into 2012. Last night, Wheeler Centre director Chrissy Sharp announced the introduction of 20 Wheeler Centre Writers' Fellowships over the next twelve months.
Each fellowship, available to both published and unpublished writers, will offer two months' use of a desk at the Wheeler Centre, along with a stipend of $1000 to support them during that period. Details about the application process for these fellowships will be published on this website soon.
Our third and final programme of events for 2011 has something for everyone.
And that’s just for starters. Take a look at our programme and start filling your calendar with big names and bigger ideas now!
Eric Beecher, the chairman of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, today announced the appointment of Michael Williams as its new Director. Michael replaces Chrissy Sharp, the Centre’s inaugural Director since 2009, who is leaving the role to join her husband in Hong Kong, where he has taken up a new appointment.
Michael, who is currently the Wheeler Centre’s Head of Programming, has been with the Centre since its inception. The announcement emphasised the extraordinary role Chrissy Sharp has played in the creation of the Wheeler Centre.
As non-ratings season plagues TV, it’s a good time to catch up on the Wheeler Centre’s biggest videos of 2010.
5) Just before the Federal election we featured a little known Greens candidate talking about the failure of the two-party system. Adam Bandt proved to be right with the hung parliament results, but also as he became the first Australian Green in the House of Representatives in Julia’s “new paradigm”.
4) Prior to the election, Kevin Rudd went from being a popularly elected leader to a party pariah ousted by his deputy. As the electorate tried to make sense of the sudden switch, David Marr’s Quarterly Essay Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd became our fourth most watched video. It seemed that even Marr was shocked by how “the strongest Labor leader for about half a century” could fall from grace.
3) In June, we hosted the Alfred Deakin Lectures, a series of public discussions which in 2010 focussed on the subject that cost Kevin Rudd so much political capital: climate change. The series opened with an inspired address as Professor Tim Flannery called for innovation in a changing climate, which became our third most watched video.
2) At number 2 is the surprise address at the Deakins from Tim Jackson, author of the groundbreaking report Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet. In essence, Jackson questioned economic growth as the most important driver for our civilisation.
1) If you thought it was all serious this year then at number 1 we have Bret Easton Ellis in conversation with Alan Brough. Easton Ellis inspired rock star mania during his Melbourne visit, and started the night confused by his own popularity and what people wanted from him. But once he got rolling he told us why American Psycho is a great Father’s Day gift, and how he pranked Vanity Fair with Judd Nelson. It even created its own cult figure: the Educator, who made question time more fun for everyone.
We’ll be back in January next year with a brand new programme, but until then – happy viewing.
In 2010 the Wheeler Centre was employed by law firm, Minter Ellison, to present a series of literary lunchtime lectures as part of its staff engagement program. Michael Williams, Head of Programming, reflects on the experience.
It’s a busy life being a lawyer. If you have to break your day down to billable hours, time for yourself is hard to find. A walk in the park, a leisurely cup of coffee, attending literary events at the city’s newest cultural institution; these things take time that your average lawyer just can’t spare. So it made sense to us to take a little bit of the Wheeler Centre to the hard-working team at Minter Ellison over 6 weeks in October and November.
To enhance the idiosyncratic Wheeler Centre flavour, our crack development manager Fiona Menzies offered my services, as head of programming for the Centre, to bring literature to the 23rd floor of the Rialto. Each week we discussed a different literary field or genre and, after an addled overview by yours truly, the lucky Minter Ellison staff got to hear from some of Melbourne publishing’s finest minds.
Week 1 featured Kate Holden reflecting on the pleasures and pitfalls of memoir writing; week 2 it was Nam Le’s turn, sharing his experiences as a short-story writer and discussing the culture surrounding literary awards and prizes. Lisa Gorton eased the boardroom into the world of poetry and Readings managing director Mark Rubbo cast light on the lot of the Australian writer and reminisced about 30 years in the book trade.
By week 5, just as the assembled Minter staff were beginning to question my gravitas, we were joined by my old English professor Peter Steele, who failed to reassure me that I wasn’t the worst student he’d ever had but illuminated us all on the classics. Finally, to ease the assembled back into the world of the law and away from literary flights of fancy, Shane Maloney revealed some home-truths about the life of the crime writer.
The generous and hospitable crowd who turned up each lunchtime left happy at the end of the 6 week run. Sure, their time might have been better spent outside in the sun, but I suspect that this Christmas many of them will be curling up with a book. What better way to spend the 15 minutes their employers give them to mark the season?
Now you know the centre's name, it might be a good time to find out who we are too...
Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who sold the controlling stake in their Lonely Planet Publications to BBC Worldwide last year, made a substantial donation to the new Centre, which will specifically fund expanded programming.
The Wheelers started Lonely Planet Publications, a brand intrinsically linked to books, writing and ideas, on their kitchen table over 30 years ago.
It went on to become one of Australia's most successful publishing companies and one of the most recognisable in the world.
Today Victorian Arts Minister Lynne Kosky officially announced our new name, the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.
We also announced our first public events, which will happen in February, and launched our Twitter account.
The Wheelers founded and ran Lonely Planet, one of Australia's most successful publishing houses, for over 30 years until last year, when they sold a majority interest to BBC-Worldwide.
They remain closely involved with the company and are now supporting Melbourne's new Centre for Books Writing and Ideas through their Planet Wheeler Foundation.
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