Hardy new artistic director for writers festival

In March 2010, Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire created Women of Letters, a literary event designed to raise funds for Edgar's Mission, an animal sanctuary. They have since taken it to the world - New York, where it is now staged each month, Los Angeles, London, Jakarta, Ubud, Dublin and more - and raised nearly $1 million for the charity.

Neither anticipated how rapidly it would expand, nor how big it would become, attracting contributors such as Hollywood actor Kathleen Turner, musician Martha Wainwright and a host of local writers, actors and musicians. Nor that it would stand them in such good stead.

Marieke Hardy, new artistic director of Melbourne Writers Festival, plans to weave a theatrical ribbon through the event. Photo: Sarah Walker

Marieke Hardy, new artistic director of Melbourne Writers Festival, plans to weave a theatrical ribbon through the event. Photo: Sarah Walker

Last year, McGuire became director of the Sydney Writers' Festival and now Hardy has been unveiled as the new artistic director of the Melbourne Writers Festival, taking over from Lisa Dempster, whose final festival begins next week. Women of letters indeed. At the same time, the festival has appointed general manager Shona Barrett as its new chief executive.

Hardy, a television writer, and regular panellist on ABC TV's The Book Club, has spent much of the past two years working anonymously in "immersive theatre, live art and experiential theatre" at Dark Mofo, Brisbane and Melbourne festivals and the Melbourne and Adelaide fringe festivals. Two years ago she received the $160,000 Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship.

She said she would bring that experience to MWF. "I don't know how to make a conventional writers' festival - I don't know how to make a conventional anything," she said. "I'm going to weave a theatrical ribbon through it, a performative ribbon through it, an experiential ribbon through it because that is who I am and what I'm passionate about."

She had been clear through the appointment process about her aspirations for the festival: "I've been a writer at festivals; I know what the experience is like for writers - I want to subvert that."

Hardy has been writing for film and television for the past 20 years working on such projects as Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Family Law, Laid and recently an adaptation of The Club with David Williamson and Jan Sardi. "In a freelance capacity I'll probably try to keep doing a few scripts, but my passion and priority is the writers' festival."

Hardy has strong literary lineage - her grandfather, Frank, was the radical author of the controversial novel Power Without Glory. What would he have thought of her appointment?

"He'd be stoked, firstly because it would probably give him a platform to drink beer, smoke his pipe and spout opinions at people, which he liked to do whether invited or not. But I think he would be incredibly pleased.

"I'm a product of my family heritage, but I'm also a unique collection of all the things I've done. I feel like I have a lot of skills at my disposal to do a great job."

And her favourite writers? Among the living, she enthuses about Elizabeth Strout, Robert Crumb, Richard Flanagan and Jennifer Downs. Dead authors she adores include Kent Haruf, M.F.K. Fisher, Kurt Vonnegut and John Kennedy Toole.

"The things I've found that those writers have is a kindness. Vonnegut is a beautiful example of someone who suffered enormously and went through reflecting on that to turn it outwards. They are the sort of writers I'm drawn to because I want it to be human experiences not just literary achievements."

Jason Steger is a panellist on The Book Club. The Age is a festival sponsor.

The story Hardy new artistic director for writers festival first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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