This year, talented Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences students from the University of Sydney had an immersive Sydney Writers' Festival experience at the University of Sydney Media Hub. Students had the opportunity to interview authors, review sessions, and create news stories, podcasts and social media content — here, FASS student Eden Faithfull recaps her week on the ground.  

‘Refuge’ is a compelling and enigmatic concept. It’s marketed to us in real estate, packaged in yoga retreats and spin classes, and even peddled in Tahitian Vanilla scented candles. Some may even believe it’s an invention of the millennial generation: our perceived fragility is often ridiculed through our proclivities for ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’. Yet despite the perplexity of the term, this transmutable notion is the celebrated theme at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.

What does it mean for a writer to seek refuge? What is literature if not a departure from our own ‘safe spaces’ into our vulnerabilities and uncertainties? As a Media Intern for the University of Sydney, I had the opportunity to find out through first-hand experience of the 2017 Festival line-up. From Karl Kruszelnicki waxing lyrical about the immanent cost of climate change, to Roxane Gay advocating for a more diverse literary landscape, it appears that ‘refuge’ is considered just as much a multidimensional concept as we could imagine.

The Festival opened with readers, writers, listeners and viewers coming to enjoy the scenery of Hickson Bay Wharf and the insights of writers like Annabel Crabb, Sarah Bakewell and Di Morrissey. Each panel or discussion that I had the privilege to observe was completely independent from the other, each and every one its own evaluation of the state of our media landscape. From learning about Queen Victoria’s rampant libido to refining the art of taking a ‘selfie’ with literature, the ideas up for grabs were abundant and effortlessly accessible.

Coming into contact with illustrious authors, journalists, essayists and activists can be overwhelming, but my personal experience of having the opportunity to interview Clementine Ford was nothing but exhilarating. Reflective and resilient, proud and unpretentious, a mother and an agitator; she is the epitome of womanhood. Throughout my interview with her she simultaneously mixes a bottle of formula, whisks her adventurous little boy away from the dangers of a hotel bar, and continues to discuss the pitfalls of capitalistic feminism without missing a beat. The Sydney Writers’ Festival and Media Internship allowed me the opportunity to have this experience with one of my own feminist heroines, and I am endlessly grateful.

However, I didn’t need to sit in a hotel bar to interact with brilliant minds. In each and every theatre along the wharf, at all hours of the day, audience members were invited to engage with each of the speakers and panellists of the Festival. Questions (not statements or irrelevant stories, we’re constantly reminded) were warmly encouraged, and what better way to learn from those around you than to ruthlessly interrogate them on their area of expertise in the presence of a watchful crowd?

In reflecting upon the Festival, and upon its multifaceted theme, it's not difficult to appreciate that the digestion of books – novels, essays, biographies and manifestos alike – is its own form a refuge; an escape from your own lived experiences and an invitation to enjoy the routines of feet that don’t know your shoes; bodies that don’t know your clothes and minds that don’t know your thoughts. And in what other way can a true lover of literature really find an escape?

— Eden Faithfull, University of Sydney Media Hub Intern


Read more coverage of the 2017 Sydney Writers' Festival by University of Sydney's media interns at the Sydney Life blog