The culture of contemporary writers' festivals

Stewart, Cori Anne (2009) The culture of contemporary writers' festivals. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines the culture of contemporary writers’ festivals in an international context. In the last five decades writers’ festivals have emerged in cities across the world, and during this time they have expanded their literary discussions and debates to include numerous other topics of broad interest to society. To examine the expanded popularity and function of writers’ festivals, this thesis establishes a new vantage point for theorising the content now typically generated by these events using concepts in urban festivals and public culture research. Importantly, the new vantage point addresses the limitations of current commentary on writers’ festivals which routinely claim they trivialize literature, and more generally, contribute to the decline of public culture. The thesis presents two case studies: one on the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia and the other on the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, Canada. The first case study, which focuses on the 2007 Brisbane Writers Festival, illustrates the many overlapping and often conflicting discourses as well as opinions productively discussed and debated at writers’ festivals. Key topic discussed and debated at the Festival include local topics about the host city—its history, literature and politics, as well as broader literary, political and celebrity culture topics. The diversity of topics discussed at the 2007 Brisbane Writers Festival is typical of the majority of writers’ festivals similarly located outside the largest geographic centres of global literary production and circulation, and designated as ‘peripheral’ festivals in this research. The second case study on Toronto’s International Festival of Authors examines the ways in which the 2006 Festival almost exclusively focussed on literary and celebrity culture discourses, and promoted itself on these terms. The 2006 International Festival of Authors’ discussion and debate of a narrow range of topics is typical of the few writers’ festivals located in global centres of literary production and circulation, and unlike ‘peripheral’ festivals they are not experiencing the same growth in number or popularity. The aim of these ‘international’ Festivals is not to democratise their elite literary beginnings, but rather to promote ‘literature’ as a niche brand for quality writing that is valid on a global scale. This thesis will assert that while all writers’ festivals are influenced by the marketing desires of publishing companies, the aim of international writers’ festivals in marketing to a virtually and globally connected elite literary audience makes them more susceptible to experiencing declines in audience and author participation.

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ID Code: 31241
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Muller, Vivienne & Glover, Stuart
Keywords: writers’ festivals, urban festivals, literature, authors, public intellectuals, media, celebrity culture, public culture, public sphere
Divisions: Past > Schools > Creative Writing & Literary Studies
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 09 Mar 2010 23:18
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:55

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