The Big Reading - let me introduce you to some international authors (SWF, Post III)

The Big Reading

"The Big Reading" is one of the events that I most look forward to every year of the Sydney Writers Festival because it gives me an opportunity to discover new authors and see more of some that I am familiar with.

Each year 5 international authors are given the opportunity to discuss their work with the audience and to give a reading from it. This year those authors were Kei Miller, Tea Obreht, David Mitchell, Kader Abdolah and Michael Cunningham.

Kei Miller was my favourite I have to admit. Miller is a Jamaican author and poet. His first fiction book (a collection of short stories) was shortlisted for the Best First Book Award in the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2007 and his poetry has been well received throughout the world. He gave his reading from his first novel, The Same Earth, and it was absolutely 'laugh out loud' funny. After the event I purchased his latest novel The Last Warner Woman and got him to sign it. It's always a little thrill when you meet an author and have the chance to say hello to them. I am definitely looking forward to this book.

Tea Obreht also spoke about and read from The Tiger's Wife, a book which seems to be the talk of the town at the moment because it is responsible for her being named one of the 20 best American authors under the age of 40 by the New Yorker. Everywhere I went at the festival people were talking about her and queuing up to have her sign their books. I enjoyed her reading very much, although she seemed a little bit bland compared to Kei Miller, and I will be looking forward to reading this book.

David Mitchell is a very well known author but one that I don't have any particular relationship with. I have tried to read Cloud Atlas but have to admit that I found the story quite inaccessible through the beautiful but challenging language. Mitchell read from an unpublished book. In fact, he read from his current work in progress. He seemed a very intelligent, polite and interesting sort of man, but I have to admit that his reading did nothing to spark any interest to attempt to read any more of his books in the near future. It was just too complicated, I wasn't quite sure what was going on in the excerpt he read and what I did understand just didn't seem compelling enough to motivate me to try.

Kader Abdolah absolutely commanded the stage, and not necessarily for all the right reasons. He just had Presence. You know that kind of person who walks into a room and everyone turns to look at them and can't keep their eyes off them for the rest of the evening? Kader Abdolah (pseudonym) is a Persian-Dutch writer. He left Iran as a political refugee in 1988 and found himself starting a new life in The Netherlands and came to fame with his book The House of the Mosque which has been voted the second best Dutch book ever. His reading was funny and poignant and received the biggest cheer of the event, for good reason. He told us about his journey from Iran to the Netherlands, his failed attempts to come to America and his dream to become the greatest ever Persian writer (which turned into his dream to become a great Dutch writer). I loved listening to his story, but I did not appreciate his behaviour on stage. I found him arrogant and disrespectful. He was clearly not paying any attention to the other authors as they did their readings, instead he spent the time looking around, playing with his papers and his pens and doing anything but what he should have been doing – showing respect by listening to the other authors. At one point, it even seemed as though he was trying to get the stage crew to hurry along another author who's reading was going a bit over time. If I hadn't have witnessed this behaviour I would have been very impressed with him.

Finally, Michael Cunningham finished up the readings. Although he is very famous for his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Hours, I had never really payed much attention to Cunningham as an author I might enjoy and certainly hadn't ever read any of his books. What I loved about the reading that Michael Cunningham gave was that he was so emotive. As he told the story his entire moved with him and his face and voice were both so expressive that it was hard to look away. Having said that, much like Mitchell's reading, I didn't really connect with the story at all. Again like Mitchell, Cunningham read from a work in progress and I had a lot of trouble following the story with him. Having seen his passion though, I will definitely visit The Hours at some point in the future.

So that was The Big Reading for 2011. It is always a rewarding event to attend and one that I hope will introduce me to many more authors in the future.

Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Author Award

I do want to add that this session began with the awarding of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Author Prize, and I have to admit that I was surprised how minimal the award giving ceremony was.

I know that there was an event the following day where the authors had the opportunity to discuss their works in greater detail (more on that later), but other than that the ceremony was very basic. Their names were read out, they crossed the stage, collected a bottle of wine and left again. It probably took less than 4 minutes altogether. I am not sure why they don't combine these two events (the ceremony and their opportunity to discuss their books). It seems that if they did it would make the award ceremony a bit more meaningful – to both the authors and the audience.

Up Next

"The Commonwealth Writers Prize" – I feel very lucky to have attended the 2011 award ceremony for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. The next post will be musings on the award and the fabulous author's who were in the running.

Post I: "The good and bad of writers festivals"
Post II: "What motivates an author"


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