Struck by the power of words

Last week DDI attended the Sydney Writer’s Festival, held at the Carriageworks which is the festival’s temporary home for the next 2 years whilst Walsh Bay is a buried in construction dust.

The festival’s theme ‘The Year of Power’ seemed on point, and yet I was surprised (and rather thrilled) to hear so many acclaimed writers take a left of field view on a seemingly obvious topic. Some proclaimed with the souls of true anarchists that ‘power’ can be unwieldy. “I’d like to hear a point of view on this from people who actually have power” said the delightful Tayari Jones, before encouraging the audience to “reclaim citizenship of yourselves”. She added: “Power is not always something overt, it can be much subtler than that. If your characters are true, then they will make their own statement. Write with truth and live with truth.” Touche.  Tayari also referred to the ‘unfair obligation’ she sometimes felt as an African American female writer. “I want black writers to have the freedom to write whatever they want – comedy, romance…not just political prose, else it’s not interesting.”

The festival’s opening address saw staff writer for the New Yorker Alexis Okeowo share her take on the state of journalism today describing it as “inherently flawed” given it hinges on explaining the ‘so-called others to the so-called us’. She described the uneasy framing in the power dynamic between journalist and subject, where subjects were often seen as passive, marginalised communities, people to whom things happen and journalists are often branded as immediate experts or in her words “…worse, saviours”.

Okeowa’s perspective is that journalists have an obligation not just to the story but to the people behind it. “It’s not just about the killer quote.”

This is just a small snippet of the delicious smorgasbord of words and wisdom that always stay with us after a trip to the Writer’s Festival.  What a privilege and an inspiration!

*Note to self, be less ‘judgey’ and write more often.