Writers SA director Jessica Alice on storytelling, community and Adelaide’s newest literary festival

With a new name, new leadership and a brand new festival, Australia’s first writers’ centre, Writers SA, is plotting a new chapter for South Australia’s literary and creative communities.

“The timing of it was fortuitous for me really, because I came on when the Writers SA brand was still quite new,” Writers SA director Jessica Alice tells The Adelaide Review. The past 18 months have seen the former SA Writers’ Centre, established in 1985, undergo a period of renewal, shedding its original name and relocating to a new home in the State Library’s historic Institute building, a fittingly literary location in the thick of North Terrace’s cultural precinct.

“It’s really nice when you come to a new organisation, but also a new place, to start thinking about what is a place? What contributes to its culture? What is its nature? How does it respond to its community and be part of it?” she says.

For Alice, a poet, editor and critic who came to the role after stints as program manager for Melbourne Writers Festival and co-director of National Young Writers’ Festival, the past year has brought a renewed focus on collaborative partnerships and projects centred on and driven by the South Australian community. “Which is all about placemaking,” she explains. “For me to do that now when I’m new to Adelaide has been really interesting; it’s meant I’ve engaged with the city in a much deeper way. I’ve had to think about myself, my own identity and connection to place and to my new home, and learning about it and the community here and thinking about how we work together, and what can I do in this role for our community?”

Clementine Ford
Author Clementine Ford is set to return to Adelaide for Context: Winter Writing Festival (Photo: Christine Pobke)

Alice cites as an example a recent ‘Autumn Motivation Masterclass’ held at The Mill, which brought together that organisation’s diverse creative community with her own, and highlighted the similarities and intersections between writing and other forms of art. “That seems to be one of the things you can do in Adelaide really well – there seems to be more of an appetite to break out of artistic silos. I think people also acknowledge that writing, or storytelling, is central to pretty much every kind of artistic practice or creative pursuit – a desire to share stories and connect. So there’s always a writing element, and I think people recognise that it’s really central to a lot of what we do.”

Other initiatives include workshops drawing on the experience of local literary successes like Burial Rites author Hannah Kent, a Writers and Readers in Residence project that embeds South Australian writers in regional communities, and a new commercial fiction fellowship for First Nations writers in partnership with Flinders university and Harlequin, a division of HarperCollins.

“That seems to be one of the things you can do in Adelaide really well – there seems to be more of an appetite to break out of artistic silos.”

In July Alice will oversee the inaugural program of Context: Winter Writing Festival, a three-day initiative of the City of Adelaide Libraries delivered by Writers SA. Featuring nationally prominent names such as Clementine Ford, Terra Nullius author Claire G Coleman and Metro magazine editor Adolfo Aranjuez alongside a diverse cohort of local and visiting writers, the festival will celebrate writing in all its forms.

“It’s a writers’ festival specifically for writers, bringing together a really dynamic and diverse group of local and national writers, with a view to activating the city and the city library,” she explains. “And giving the writers of Australia and Adelaide a chance to gather and have really important conversations about writing and literature, where they see Australia’s literary future and their own role in it.” The festival’s program also looks beyond the usual territory of published authors to include songwriters, screenwriters, academics and a dancer. “We’re exploring writing in all of its forms and intersections with other art forms.”

Terra Nullius author Claire C Coleman will deliver the opening address at Context: Winter Writing Festival (Photo: Jen Dainer)
Terra Nullius author Claire G Coleman will deliver the opening address at Context: Winter Writing Festival (Photo: Jen Dainer)

Eschewing the traditional panel sessions of major talks festivals like Adelaide Writers’ Week, Context will include songwriting and games writing workshops and ‘long table’ discussions. “It’s a more participatory discussion where the line between the panellist and the audience is much more blurred. Anyone can opt in or out of the conversation at any time, and it really opens up discussion between the writers and the audience.”

Which, of course, speaks to the role of a writers’ centre in building community and connections out of what can be an inherently isolated vocation. “It’s about connection, and being able to gather as a community,” Alice says. “So much of what we do is really solitary, solitary by necessity as well – you really need time to focus and pay attention and get really deep into your craft. But then part of it is also meeting other writers and being part of the community, finding out what other people are working on, sharing ideas and bouncing them off other people. And just getting to know what everyone’s writing; what are the common ideas coming up and how does that become part of larger national and international conversations?”

Context: Winter Writing Festival
Adelaide City Library, Rundle Place
Friday, July 12 – Sunday, July 14

writerssa.org.au

cityofadelaide.com.au/your-community/library-services/programs-and-events/event-details/context-winter-writing-festival

Header image:
Sia Duff

Adelaide In-depth

Get the latest stories, insights and exclusive giveaways delivered straight to your inbox every week.