Celebrating local stories through place-based programming

Running from 1-4 June 2023, the NT Writers Festival offers the perfect reason for a mid-winter getaway to Alice Springs.

‘One of the things that the NT Writers Festival really focuses on is place-based curation and bringing the environment into the way we think about our program,’ explains Rita Horanyi, Artistic Director of the Northern Territory Writers Festival.

Taking place in the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Mparntwe/Alice Springs from 1-4 June, the Festival is as much a celebration of place as it is of the craft of writing – resulting in a distinctive program that features some of the territory’s best storytellers alongside nationally and internationally significant guests.

Explaining the Festival’s programming aesthetic, Horanyi says, ‘We try and run events that bring the location into conversation with our program – so, for example, we may have a walk and talk with an author and botanist through the Botanic Garden. And this year, with our theme of “mwantye-le awaye/listen deeply”, we’re going to have conversations around listening to the land.’

A series of high-calibre guests are also featured in the program, including Wiradyuri writer Dr Anita Heiss AM, the author of Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams); Irish-Australian writer Chris Flynn, the author of Mammoth; and the 2022-2023 Australian Children’s Laureate, Gabrielle Wang.

Australian-born, US-based author and Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks, will also be visiting Mparntwe/Alice Springs for the festival, ‘which is tremendously exciting for us,’ Horanyi says.

Program highlights

The full line-up for the 2023 NT Writers Festival will be launched on Wednesday 26 April, but Horanyi happily hints at some of the distinctive events that festival-goers can experience this year.

‘There’s a special bus tour with a Traditional Custodian for Mparntwe, where participants visit significant sites, which is a very limited capacity event. We’ll also have a gala storytelling event on the Saturday night called Campfire Stories that’s going to be outside under the beautiful desert sky,’ she tells ArtsHub.

‘It’s a bit different to the experience that you’d have at the big city writers’ festivals where there are predominantly panels and talks. We do have those events as well, but we try and do things that are more site-specific – and we also feature many local writers in order to showcase the rich and diverse storytelling culture of the NT.’

Given that both reading and writing are solitary activities, events like the NT Writers Festival are an important opportunity for community-building, Horanyi adds.

‘We’re really celebrating language, culture and stories shaped by place. I think it forges a community and allows people to come together and share those ideas and celebrate them, when often they may be thinking about them on their own,’ she tells ArtsHub.

Deep listening

At a time when social divisions are deepening and attention spans are shrinking, the Festival’s theme of
“mwantye-le awaye/listen deeply” (developed with the 2023 Festival Advisory Committee, Sylvia Purrurle Neale, Dani Powell, Meg Mooney and Gabriel Curtin in consultation with Arrernte Elder Kumalie Riley) feels especially pertinent.

Horanyi says that deep listening – both to the land and to one another – is ‘a really important thing generally for Australia, but has special significance in First Nations cultures and is something we can learn from, particularly in relation to listening to the environment and listening as a full concept, as really taking something in without prejudice and without preconceived ideas.

‘And, obviously, we are also in a moment where it’s very hard to listen. We’re constantly distracted by social media and bombarded with information. So I was also interested in how we can focus our attention on the things that matter at this point in time?’

The NT Writers Festival runs from 1-4 June in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. Learn more about the festival program.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts