21 May 2012

The Reading and Writing Community

On a number of occasions in my life I have been accused of stating the obvious. I mention this because I am about to do exactly that. After spending two glorious days at the Sydney Writers' Festival I am advocating the importance of - no, the necessity of - teacher reading and engagement with the reading and writing community. 

As an English teacher it's obvious that I need to be reading in my subject area; Adult, Young Adult and Children's Literature are all essential for me to be able to do my job well. I consider myself fortunate that my favourite pastime is so inextricably linked with my career. Each new text refreshes my knowledge of the world through its narrative arc. I also need to keep pace with experimentation and developments in voice and style. And - stating the obvious again - this is where Writers' Festivals are so helpful, personally and professionally. 

Through the curatorship of the festival director, current trends in literature are brought to my attention. What he (or she) selects to offer the public shows us what's 'hot', and often simply looking through the program gives us a sense of this. Writers whose work we may not know of, a form like the short story which is frequently marginalised, or quality non-fiction texts are just a few samples of what a festival brings to its audience. Being able to hear an author speak and witnessing the buzz of the audience often challenges me to read a book I wouldn't normally pick up. Sometimes it makes me buy or recommend a book for someone else, challenging their usual reading patterns. 

Aside from deepening my knowledge of authors and writing styles, often I come away with ideas for classes. In one of the sessions on Saturday, would-be writers were challenged to present a three minute story pitch and were given live, public feedback from three publishers. Whilst I have done something similar such as a Viva Voce for seniors, the format of this session was immediately useful. Each student could pitch their own stories as they write them, to teachers and/or a student panel for feedback (collaboration at work here). Students could also imagine themselves as the writer of a text they are studying, and pitch this idea to the panel. I could go on and on here, and that was just from one session. 

It's clear then, that Writers' Festivals, such as the one just concluded in Sydney, challenge me on a personal and professional level. Teachers across the state should be encouraged and supported to attend as professional development. It would give teachers a sense of agency when making choices for literature to read for pleasure and to teach their students. It would keep teachers in the loop of recent developments in voice and style. It would promote creative ways of interacting with literature in our classrooms. 


Until next year's festival then! 

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