Writers weren’t the only creative souls at the annual Brisbane Writers Festival last weekend.
Greeting festival-goers at the entrance to the wonderful State Library of Queensland was a heart-shaped sculpture fashioned from books, which had been used as the festival logo to celebrate its 50th year and the theme “Celebrating the heart of the story”. As they say these days, I heart books and I loved that sculpture.
It set the tone for creativity and I had only gone a few more steps when I arrived on Saturday morning, when I saw another. A smiling young woman directing people their sessions was wearing a book on her head! Not balancing it, but wearing it. I stood back and looked for a while and when she was no longer busy decided to satisfy my curiosity.
Still smiling, she took it off her head to show me. The book, cleverly bent into curly shapes, was attached to a headband. The top pages arched together to form a heart. It was a paperback copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. For some reason, I looked down. My new acquaintance was wearing a pair of bright red ballet pumps. She followed my gaze and laughed. “You’re not the first person to notice!”
I couldn’t help myself: “Your name’s not Dorothy, is it?”
She laughed again. “No, it’s Crystal.” Crystal works at the State Library and created the headress earlier this year to celebrate the National Year of Reading. She thought it was just the thing for the writers’ festival and she was absolutely right!
Buoyed by this lovely piece of nonsense, I plunged into some of the free sessions being offered by the festival. My highlights: indigenous writers (including New Zealand’s Witi Ihimaera, author of The Whale Rider) talking about sharing their culture through storytelling; and contributors to The Griffith Review – including my former colleague Kristina Olsson and Aboriginal essayist Melissa Lucashenko – talking about the influence of travel on their writing.
On Sunday afternoon, to round off the weekend, I joined what session chair Matthew Condon dubbed “the naughty, saucy crowd” – with only eight brave men in the audience – to listen to Women & Their Lovers. The speakers sat in a three-sided glass cube, their backs to the river as ferries and pleasure boats zipped up and down behind them in the late afternoon light.
The conversation ranged over love and lovers of all kinds, but we were all there for one reason: our love of literature. And so I should not have been surprised – although I kept waiting for it – that miraculously (and thankfully) there was not a single mention of that unmentionable international world best-seller that purports to be about love.
And perhaps there’s a reason for that. What’s that joke about the sign in the bookshop? “Browsers welcome, both high browse and low browse.”