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AN AUDIENCE ADVOCATE’S PERSPECTIVE: 2016

Guest post by Sean Fallon

When I spoke to people who were loving Melbourne Writers Festival, I couldn’t help but say, “I was an Audience Advocate for this year’s Festival.” And they would look at me with wide eyes and say, “What’s that?”

The Audience Advocates are a group of 12 literary-minded individuals brought together by MWF head Lisa Dempster. We had meetings in the lead-up to the Festival in which we discussed who we would like to see, our favourite writing, experiences with past festivals, what interested us from the Digital Suggestion box, who it was that was eating all the Tim Tams and what made a great event.

It was quite intimidating, and not just because I was the one who ate all the Tim Tams. What made it so comfortable in the end though was that the 12 advocates were all interesting, respectful and down-to-earth. Before my first meeting, I worried that it would be me and 11 people with PHDs in literature and I would not be asked back for the second meeting. Instead, it was a warm, lovely group of readers, writers and Festival-goers eager to listen to what others had to say.

Being an advocate made me see the Festival in a whole new light. To get a glimpse behind the curtain and see the amount of work involved was humbling. It also made every event for me an Event, and added something extra to each writer and performer: Alexei Sayle was funnier, AC Grayling smarter, PJ Harvey more mystical, George Packer more insightful, Maxine Beneba Clarke more powerful, Yassmin Abdel-Magied more amazing, Lionel Shriver more compelling and Juliet Jacques more inspiring.

This year’s theme was identity and that shone through. Each person took the stage with a proud sense of I Am, and a range of sexes, ages, genders, sexual orientations and races were represented, each person given their chance to talk about themselves, their writing and their own life experiences. The strength, intelligence, and humour exhibited every day at the Festival was awe-inspiring.

Watching the huge book signing line for YA authors David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell on the first weekend of the Festival, and the looks on people’s faces as they carried their piles of books for the writers to sign, I was filled with pride. I had been part of this. In my own small way I had helped, alongside my fellow advocates, to make this wonderful event happen.

And I also got to eat free Tim Tams, so what’s not to like?