Feature Week 30: Brisbane Writers Festival
Week 30 of the National Year of Reading coincides with the Brisbane Writers Festival. It's a great opportunity to feature Nick Earls and Suzy Wilson, who are both involved in the celebration.
Suzy is the owner of Riverbend Books and Teahouse in the Brisbane suburb of Bulimba. Her wonderful bookshop has won several awards including the Australian Independent Bookshop of the Year. Riverbend plays an important role as a community hub, hosting a range of activities including author visits and bookchats, special children's events and classes on a range of subjects. Regular meetings of the 'Gateway Learning Community' a group of local school principals take place at the bookshop, along with the annual Riverbend Poetry series.
Disturbed by low Indigenous literacy rates, Suzy founded the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. She began in 2004 by organising the first Riverbend Readers' Challenge that raised $25,000 for Indigenous literacy projects.
Prior to her career in the book industry, Suzy was a teacher, an education consultant and a lecturer at QUT.
Suzy's thoughts on reading and the National Year of Reading
A year of celebrating books and reading! Could life get any better? I owe so much to books. They have given me great joy, companionship, knowledge. They have provided me with both a job and an accompanying sense of purpose. Equality of opportunity needs literacy as an ally. It is essential for employment and we know literacy is a pathway out of disadvantage. It is an honour to be invited to be a Queensland ambassador and have the opportunity to join with many to support literacy initiatives.
Suzy's reading habits
- When do you read? I feel utterly bereft if there is not a book within easy reach, so all of the above and more. I keep books everywhere, in my handbag, in the car, always travel with a book...it is the nicest of addictions.
- What is a good news story for the Australian Book Industry? Every day there is a good news story for the Australian Book Industry. I am continually astonished by the number of great books that keep rolling through our doors. The depth of talent and skills coming from our authors, illustrators and publishers is continually impressive. We should be very proud of having such a vibrant publishing sector in this country. The fact that times are 'tougher' in retail can be perceived as reminding us that we shouldn't take for granted the access we have to so many great books.
- Which book is by your bedside right now?
I am reading 'The tower mill' by James Moloney. This is James' first adult fiction (he mostly writes for teens) and is a fascinating insight into recentish Queensland history. One of the key events of the book involves the student anti-apartheid riots when the Springboks toured, and the police reacted with aggression. There are some pretty poignant reminders of what it was like living in Queensland during the Joh era.
- Why are Independent bookstores important?
I would ask a question in response: Can you imagine not having Independent bookstores in our communities? They are part of the fabric of our community in so many ways from the book clubs they offer, the way they can help kick off a new author's career, the jobs they offer, the lovely places that they are to while away a few hours in. At the Brisbane Writer's Festival last year, Ann Patchett talked about her city in Tennessee where all the bookstores closed. She described it as being like living in an intellectual and moral vacuum that felt terribly wrong. Eventually she and some others formed a partnership to open a new Independent store called Parnassus (the Greek mountain which is renowned as the birthplace for music, story and poetry.)
- How is book retailing at the moment? The current retail climate has made things a bit tough for some and I think all Indies find the fact that Amazon does not have to collect GST for the government but Indies do... very galling. Last year the government organised an in-depth study of the book industry. Some excellent recommendations came out of the study, which we wait with very bated breath to see if they will implement â€“ one of them addressed the issue of GST.
- What author has most influenced you? Aah, so many authors have influenced me. I love the ones who subtly change your worldview and the ones who challenge your ideas about life and can affect you in a very visceral way. So that would include David Malouf, Sebastian Barry, Richard Ford, Helen Garner, Arthur Koestler, Hilary Mantel, Anna Funder, and Colm Toibin. The list is much longer, but I will stop there for now.
- What are your views of illustrated books? I have a great fondness for them. I am frequently overwhelmed by the beauty, skill and artistry of Australia's illustrators. They are world class and very inspiring, both in the children's and adult genres.
- How do you decide what to read?
Well I get very excited when my favourite authors have a new book out. For instance I have just heard that Margaret Atwood has something coming out in February; Rose Tremain has a sequel to 'Restoration' due before Christmas; Alice Munro has some new short stories due; and Ian McEwan has 'Sweet tooth' coming in September. I can't wait to read them all. l also love hearing what friends, family and colleagues have been reading. My partner is currently loving Wallace Stegner's 'Crossing to safety', which I will save up for a holiday treat.
- Do you remember learning to read? Yes! I remember feeling like I had just been welcomed into a secret club that my older sisters belonged to and that I had previously been excluded from. It was a big milestone and hugely satisfying. Sometimes we can take the ability to read for granted but surely it has to be one of the biggest milestones of childhood and is cause for great joy for the worlds it opens up for everyone.
- Why should parents read to their children each night? After the busyness of our daily lives, story time is a quiet and calming time to reconnect with children, cuddle up and share a great story. Also, all the research on literacy shows that a child's experience with books in early childhood is the greatest indicator for literacy success.
- What about the future of books in Australia? Some might think to answer this question with a comment about ereaders and ebooks. Instead I would like to answer this question by saying that I hope the future will bring improved literacy levels for all Australians.
Indigenous Literacy Foundation
Suzy is the founder of, and board member for, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF). The ILF is an Australian Book Industry charity that draws on the industries diverse range of expertise, skills and resources. It works with the support of the Australian Publishers Association, the Australian Booksellers Association and the Australian Society of Authors. In addition to Suzy, the Foundation is supported by a number of National Year of Reading ambassadors and friends including Andy Griffiths, Anita Heiss and Wendy Orr.
The ILF raises funds to improve Indigenous literacy outcomes, providing books and resources to Indigenous communities and raising community awareness of Indigenous issues. In 2012, the Foundation's major fundraising campaign is centred on Indigenous Literacy Day on Wednesday 5 September. Further details about this campaign are available on the ILF website:
The following clip demonstrates the work undertaken by the ILF:
Wendy Orr has released an e-cookbook, 'Nim's Island cookbook', as a fundraising project for ILF. It is a collaborative work that takes its name from Wendy's 'Nim's Island' that describes the adventures of a young girl who is alone on a tropical island. The e-cookbook contains recipes, activities and teaching suggestions.
To purchase a copy of the e-cookbook, go to the Amazon website:
More information about the Indigenous Literacy Foundation can be found on the Foundation website:
Brisbane Writers Festival
In 2012, the festival celebrates its 50th year and runs from 5-9 September, with the theme 'Celebrating the heart of the story'. Suzy is taking part in the festival on Friday 7 September when she will speak with author Patrick Gale about his new novel 'A perfectly good man'. Further details about this event can be found on the festival website:
Many other National Year of Reading ambassadors and friends are taking part in the festival, including William McInnes, Gary Crew, Libby Gleeson, Gerrard Gosens, Roland Sussex, Andy Griffiths, Anita Heiss, Alison Lester, Boori Monty Pryor, Alice Pung, and Jeff Sparrow. Search the festival program for details about their specific events:
Riverbend Books is organising a literary outing to the festival on 7 September, promising a feast of books, ideas and authors. For more information about the event, go to the Riverbend website:
Want to know more?
- To learn more about Suzy and her bookshop, take a look at her website, twitter and facebook pages:
- You might also be interested in reading about Nick Earls, our other featured ambassador this week:
- If you want to see the other National Year of Reading ambassadors, go to our ambassadors page.
- Other featured ambassadors can be found on the ambassador feature week listing.