The audience of ultimate indignity…someone walked out of your keynote. How to continue, wondering what nerve was hit? What sacred cow did you shoot?
We imagine the worst, take it as a condemnation of our words. But perhaps they went to take an emergency phone call or to the bathroom?
Misread Body language?
If pressured, we may misread signals. As I did, presenting my first American sessions, aware that a co-faculty member sat with bland face–as he processed my words. Yet he came first to shake hands and say “I was intrigued that you said…”
Some do tell it straight…
By posting a blog as did Yassim Abdel-Magied. She protested that acclaimed author Lionel Shriver’s Brisbane Writers Festival keynote address targeted “cultural appropriation, identity politics and political correctness.”
Stay on topic
To their credit, festival organisers quickly mounted a right of reply, saying Shriver “didn’t stay with the agreed brief” of “community and belonging” but reverted to her submitted topic of “fiction and identity politics.” Even a respected author who won awards for We Need to Talk About Kevin should stay on topic.
Writers festivals are my natural habitat. They attract thinking, articulate people, who discuss reactions, smiling as they plod though mud between tents to absorb yet more challenging ideas. Mega thanks, Byron Writers Festival and Jesse Blackadder for the opportunity to launch my book Burn My Letters.
This inspiring festival is unique amongst others in giving space for humble indie authors.
A new writers festival
And for Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival where director Wendy Hanlon launched Burn My Letters in an innovative, inclusive and friendly atmosphere. In it, I give voice to one who was censored, I “step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats” (to quote Shriver) as authors do.
I’m thrilled with 5-star reviews on Goodreads.
What’s it all about?
Out of town, I missed the BWF keynote furore. But reading the transcript I’m of two minds. I sympathise with those who felt confronted by the speech, but wonder how many silent majority audience agreed. The sort of people Hillary Clinton dismissed as “deplorables” who feel so ridiculed for conservative beliefs, and disenfranchised that they would even consider voting for extreme right politicians.
Bring on the debate – pro and con
Did some nod at her words: “The left’s embrace of gotcha hypersensitivity inevitably invites backlash. Donald Trump appeals to people who have had it up to their eyeballs with being told what they can and cannot say. Pushing back against a mainstream culture of speak-no-evil suppression, they lash out in defiance, and then what they say is pretty appalling.”
Abdel-Magiel has appeared on GotchaLand ABC QandA panels.
But it’s simplistic to dub a walkout as as publicity stunt, not knowing sensitivities that prompted it. We value our country’s freedom of speech that enabled Abdel-Magied her voice. We can always learn from criticism.
But as a wordsmith, I worry that increasingly, words are curtailed, censored, criticised.
Shriver cited recent authors that the left judges for “cultural appropriation.” Do we add the white Harper Lee whose To Kill a Mocking Bird and Uncle Tom’s Cabin that took on American racial prejudices? Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood?
What price words?
The Australian government deems words so cheap that they consider changing laws to cut copyright to a mere 15 years. Or allow parallel importation of books, that would decimate authors’ already meagre incomes.
We need to talk, with open minds, respect and sensitivity. Dialogue, not monologue. Unless we’re the keynote speaker.