Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 1, 2014

Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival 2014

Well, Sydney has its high profile SWF, but Melbourne had not one but two festivals this weekend: the Emerging Writers Festival, and the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Writers festival which I attended today.  I could only manage three sessions, but if they were indicative, there is no doubt that the MJWF will become a regular fixture on the festival calendar.

I started off at an excellent session, Dina Ross of the ABR interviewing Elliott Perlman.  I’ve heard Perlman talk before, but as an occasional festival presenter myself, I was very impressed by the way Dina’s questions brought out new insights about his themes and motivations.  She reminded the audience that he has been described by the TLS as ‘Australia’s outstanding social novelist’, by Le Nouvelle Observateur (France) as Australia’s Zola and by Lire (France) as one of the ’50 most important writers in the world’.  Is this just because the French have a tradition of social novels?  Hardly.  It’s because Perlman is an outstanding storyteller who tells inspiring stories of heroism, resistance and survival in societies that try to deny agency to ordinary people.  I can’t wait till his next novel comes out…

My next session was called The Moral of the Story, with Louise Adler interviewing Renata Singer and Peter Singer about their jointly authored anthology The Moral of the Story: An Anthology of Ethics Through Literature.  I went to this because I admire Peter Singer’s practical philosophy (see my review of The Life You Can Save) but I found myself admiring Renata Singer’s wise and gentle humour too.  Everything she said made perfect sense to me: how reading informs the ethical persona of the growing child; how it introduces you to a world you can’t experience yourself; how it allows us to face our terrors and how it teaches us how to interact with others.  There was a throw-away line at the end of this session that maybe there should be an Australian edition (because the original published in 2005 was pitched at American college students).  I wonder if Adler (who is publisher-in-chief at Melbourne University Press) had a conversation with them about this afterwards??

My last session, Fatal Secrets, was rather chastening.   Ida Lichter interviewed the Iranian doctor Kooshyar Karimi about his experiences as a Jew in post-revolutionary Iran.  Lichter’s questioning style allowed him to tell his story, and there was a sober hush in the room as he told us about his childhood, about the depressing darkness of repression under the new regime and how everything that made life enjoyable was gone.  More sobering still was his work as a doctor to help women who had broken the appalling laws that govern their lives under fundamentalist Islam, and how he came to the attention of the authorities, was imprisoned and tortured and then spent long months in a Turkish refugee camp.  He said, compellingly, that having lost everything – home, family, nationality – was dreadful, and that if he had been locked up in a detention centre he would have gone mad.  (In Turkey they were not allowed to work and had to report to authorities twice a day, but they were not locked up and could live anywhere they could manage within the city).  His book, I Confess – covering his life until he left Iranwas a bestseller because almost everyone was clutching a copy.  He is writing a second book,  about his time in Turkey, and here.  One to watch out for, I am sure.

The venue worked well.  My events were in the Beth Weizmann building and Lamm Jewish Library  at 304 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South.  Outside, there was a cosy marquee (warm and dry on a rather miserable day) which was full of delicious food,  a bookstall manned by Readings and a great atmosphere.  Parking was easy enough, and of course it’s right on the tramline too.

For another – much more detailed report of these sessions and also some Saturday sessions, see Jenny Ackland’s post at Seraglio.

There is more to come tomorrow, but of course I can’t go because of work.
If you haven’t got tickets yet, check out the program!  For all enquiries: (613) 9272 5611 (LJLA) / info@mjwf.com.au

PS I bought three books: Hergesheimer Hangs In by Morris Lurie (whose adult novels I’ve only just discovered, (see my review of To Light Attained); The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason; and The Schopenhauer Cure, a Novel by Irvin D Yalom.


Responses

  1. I would have loved this festival. Was Ramona Koval involved in any way. I love her. Too bad about that body of water between us (Tassie) and Melbourne. Sounds like a great day. Too bad you can’t go tomorrow.
    I always said the job really interferes with the lifestyle. Thanks for sharing this day.

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    • Hello Pam, that’s how I feel about the ‘body of water’ when Tassie hosts Ten Days on the Island! I do so love Tasmania, so much to see and do:)
      I don’t think Ramona Koval was involved, but it was a bit of a who’s who of Aussie talent: Andrea Goldsmith was a participant and so was Alex Skovron, Julie Szego and Maria Tumarkin, Arnold Zable and Sally Warhaft. I spied Rachael Kohn, and Linda Javin, and I had a chat with Harry Lew and Ros Collins (who introduced me to the wonderful books of her late husband Alan Collins). And that’s just a few!

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  2. Life is strange … I was just visiting Whispering Gums blog and commenting on a post about food in literature. As soon as I read her post, I thought about Alan Collins (in particular his ‘The Boys from Bondi’) and then I come here and read mention of Ros Collins who has done so much to keep her late husband’s works alive. (Looking forward to Ros’s own memoir being released in the near future).
    This festival does indeed sound delightful. Thanks for giving us an overview of your visit, Lisa. For those of us unable to attend events such as these, your posts bring them to life for us.
    ‘I Confess’ sounds like the sort of book more Australians should read.

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    • Hi Karenlee, don’t you love that synchronicity? I had just talked to my mother on Sunday morning, and she asked me how I’d heard about this festival, via Ros Collins, of course, and so I explained about Alan’s books, and then Ros’s forthcoming one. And I also said that while I think my mother would like Alan’s books, she will *love* Ros’s memoir, so I shall be sending her a copy before long, I hope!
      (And I’ll make sure that Ros autographs it before I post it up to Qld!)

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  3. Thanks for this report Lisa … sounds like one of those great invigorating festivals. To make a huge and almost meaningless generalisation, Jewish culture has always intrigued me. I would love to have been at the Perlman session, but they all sound excellent.

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    • Sue, this festival was a class act from start to finish. A very welcome addition to Melbourne’s calendar:)
      (And they had the *best* cheese cake! I am a bit of an aficionado of Jewish cheesecake because I lived next door to Mrs Kuperholz in Melby Avenue and she used to bake it all the time and share it with the greedy teenager next door (me). Her cheesecake was to die for. I have tried making my own, and I have tried every cheesecake in Acland Street but none of them are as good as hers was. In 2012 at the Holocaust Museum in Berlin they came close, very close, but the one they had in the tent at this festival was excellent.
      Now I have to find out exactly where it was made!

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      • Sounds like it was a great tent – oh, and a great festival. What a shame it ran over into Monday. But, the cheesecake would not have appealed to me! Even before I found I couldn’t tolerate milk and cheese, it just wasn’t something I ever hankered for. (Maybe it was my body telling me!) My daughter loves them though. I assume you are talking baked?

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        • Yes, baked Jewish cheesecake. Divine!

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          • Well, I hope you find the source – or, the recipe for the spouse!

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      • We had some of the cheesecake too. It was The Best.

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  4. Hi Lisa, didn’t see you at Perlman but of course couldn’t help but notice you at the Singer session when you stood and spoke and recommended the book to Linda Jaivin. It was a great moment! I’ve just put my post up at my blog: http://wp.me/p2T9zF-gI Hope we can chat next time!

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    • Yes, we will plan together next time because next time I will be retired and I can go to everything:)

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  5. Great post, Lisa; thanks for taking the time. There was another festival on this weekend too, Williamstown Literary Festival, which kept me from visiting the Jewish festival.

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    • It amuses me (or something) that festivals so often overlap like that. Doesn’t make sense unless there are international guests on the circuit. Not sure if there were/are with these two festivals in particular.

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      • And the Emerging Writers Festival as well, is on at the moment. So that’s three in Melbourne.

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        • Yes, it was a bit crazy having the three on at the same weekend. This is where the Wheeler Centre could play a useful role, helping to coordinate the literary calendar. I would have loved to have gone to the Emerging Writers as well, and I’ve been to Willy a couple of times before too.
          And now next weekend there’s the Woodend Arts Festival – yay! It’s more of a music festival but there are literary events which are always excellent.
          How lucky we are!

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          • Definitely very lucky, spoiled for choice. And thanks for linking to my blog, Lisa. Appreciate it.

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  6. […] in Melbourne we had a feast of festivals last weekend: the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Writers’ Festival; the Williamstown Literary Festival, and the Emerging Writers Festival (which is still running […]

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  7. It sounds like a great festival, Lisa. I would have given my eye teeth to see Elliot Perlman!!

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    • I’d go again tomorrow if I could:)

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  8. […] inaugural Melbourne Jewish Writers festival, about which (the festival, not Goldenberg) Lisa (ANZLitLovers) and Jenny (Seraglio) have posted on their blogs. Goldenberg writes on his blog of his session with […]

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