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Lisa Dempster emerges as new Melbourne Writers Festival Director

Source: Emerging Writers Festival flickr

The Melbourne Writers Festival launches next week, and is Steve Grimwade’s last as festival Director. It has been an unusual time in the literary festival scene, with the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Emerging Writers’ Festivals all changing Directors.

Yesterday afternoon, Bookseller + Publisher announced that Lisa Dempster, outgoing Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF) has been appointed the new Director of the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF).

Dempster begins her role in October, and will deliver the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Melbourne Writers Festivals. Interestingly, current MWF Director Steve Grimwade was himself Emerging Writers’ Festival Director in 2006-2007.

MWF festival chairman Michael Webster described Dempster to Bookseller + Publisher as one of Australia’s most exciting programmers and said she inspired the festival board with her ambition for the festival. ‘Lisa is precisely the right person to now take the baton, and take the festival into its next chapter.’

Today, EWF Chair Mary Masters said in a statement, ‘We couldn’t be more pleased and proud of Lisa and are committed to supporting her transition into the new role. While this is a huge personal achievement for Lisa, this move will naturally open up more opportunities for our two festivals and is going to be a win for both of our communities and the ongoing development and growth of Melbourne’s literary scene.’

On the closing night of the EWF this year, Lisa told the crowd that she wouldn’t be who she is today without EWF. I know myself and many young and emerging writers would not be where they are without her belief, support and inspiration. My very first internship was at last year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival with Lisa as my mentor, and I’m personally very excited for Lisa in this new role.

Lisa is currently in Bali at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, and she answered a few questions for me about her vision for festival.

How does MWF differ, in your view, from EWF?

The Emerging Writers’ Festival is quite focussed in its scope. It is a festival for writers, and specifically examines the art, the craft and the business of being a writer. On the other hand, the Melbourne Writers Festival is a festival that tackles and celebrates a broad literary culture – it is about writing, reading, society and ideas.

You’re known for fostering emerging writers, would you like to continue the same emphasis on discovering new talent as well as featuring blockbuster authors at MWF?

I think it is important not just to champion emerging talent, but to find and give platform to diverse voices, and people publishing or performing in innovative and non-mainstream ways.  I think the Melbourne Writers Festival is a chance to showcase our excellent local talent – both emerging and established – on a national and global level.

You’ve been to lots of international writers festivals – will you be drawing inspiration from any in particular? And are there aspects of any international festivals that you’d like to replicate here in Melbourne?

I have been very lucky to visit a lot of different festivals over the past few years – both in Australia and internationally. It’s been amazing – I love being a festival tourist. I’m currently doing an Asialink fellowship in Bali, working at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. I’m drawing so much inspiration from being here, working with a team of talented expats and Indonesians, and seeing how they come together to create a festival. The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is a true celebration – a four-day literary party – which I think is pretty magical! I definitely think that Aussie writers festivals have more room to grow in terms of celebrating literature – it’s something I did at Emerging Writers’ Festival and a mindset I will bring with me to Melbourne Writers Festival also.

Will there be a similar emphasis on the online aspects of MWF that you created in your time as Director of EWF?

I love playing in the digital space and it will continue to be a focus of mine! I look forward to working to increase opportunities for people to engage with the festival and our authors online in fun and surprising ways.

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