A queer writers’ festival at last

(L to R) EnQueer team: Joanna Lamb, Ali Asghar Shah, and Josephine Clark-Wroe. Image: supplied.

When a fruitless internet search led Joanna Lamb to the disappointing realisation that there were currently no queer-focused writers’ events anywhere in the country, she decided that needed to change. The Sentinel spoke with Lamb about initiating the EnQueer writers’ festival. 

“That was something that was missing in the queer calendar and in the literary space, and everybody we’ve spoken to has been just as surprised as we are that that space does not exist. So that told us that there was a need and a want for a queer writer’s festival,” says Joanna Lamb, describing her impetus for founding EnQueer

She assembled a very small team: Festival Director, Josephine Clark-Wroe and Creative Director, Ali Asghar Shah, and the three of them set about creating a writers’ festival – something none of them had any previous experience in.

The first task was to come up with a name. 

“We wanted a title that was obviously catchy,” says Lamb. “We wanted them to know immediately that it was a queer festival but also something that encapsulates what we were trying to achieve as well, which was, an enquiry into where we’re at with queer writing.”

Hence, the name ‘EnQueer’, a play on ‘enquire’. 

Next, the team had to shape the festival, determine who would take part and what it would be about. 

“Who are our representatives who are writing and are queer? How do they see themselves? What are the topics that are important to our queer community?” 

Rather than try and answer these questions themselves, the EnQueer team called for submissions from emerging queer writers interested in being part of the festival. They received over 80 expressions of interest. 

EnQueer is also reaching out to recognised writers in the community.  

“One of our biggest supporters from the beginning has been Benjamin Law. He has really championed us and supported us from the beginning,” says Lamb. “We do have other major writing figures from the queer community that we are in conversation with.” 

Queer writer and broadcaster, Benjamin Law is a supporter of EnQueer. Image: EnqueerSydney/enQueer.

The three-day festival is slated to take place in November this year. Naturally, the method of delivery will be contingent on NSW Health restrictions at that time. Lamb’s preference is for a live event and she is currently exploring potential venues, however, the festival will incorporate digital elements and can be modified for full digital delivery if required. 

Hosting a digital event has some inherent benefits: there’s an opportunity to include international guests; it can reach a much wider audience; and it can be accessible to a broader community, in particular, people with disabilities. 

There will be a ticket price for the festival, however, EnQueer isn’t seeking to make a profit or even pay organisers, just cover costs. To that end they are calling for sponsors. ACON has already come on board.   

“We want to make the festival as accessible as possible, that’s always been our aim, so we want to keep it low cost,” says Lamb.

The full program should be completed and published by September. It will look like a traditional writers’ festival program with keynote speakers, readings, panel discussions, workshops and maybe one or two surprises. It will be the first standalone queer writers’ festival of its kind held in this city, and, based on initial feedback, Lamb feels fairly confident it will be a success.

“What’s driven us forward has been every conversation we’ve had with a queer writer, a queer service provider, queer organisations in the community, and the support they’ve given us,” she says. 

EnQueer intends to make the Sydney Queer Writers’ Festival an annual event and hopes to make it a national or even international one. They’re also interested in possible partnerships with other queer cultural organisations for future projects. 

Lamb sees EnQueer as an interactive, sharing, community hub for queer writers and lovers of queer writing. 

“We’re always hugely open to anyone who wants to get in touch with us, ask questions, get involved in some way if they feel like they have something to offer. We’re just wanting to make it as collaborative a festival as possible.”

If you’d like to stay up to date or are interested in volunteering or contributing, keep an eye on the website and Facebook page. 

www.enqueer.com.au

www.facebook.com/EnQueerSydney

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.