The Write around the Murray Festival program was launched today at the LibraryMuseum. It’s a great celebration of reading, writing and storytelling, but the reality is almost half of all Australians struggle without literacy skills to meet the most basic demands of everyday life and work.
Border Mail Column Wednesday 1 August 2012
Recently at the Albury LibraryMuseum and later that same day at the Lavington Library two groups of girls decided to get a head start on the AlburyCity Nano writing competition that is part of the Write around the Murray Festival.
They were bright- eyed and excited and listened intently to tips on getting the reader in quickly – they only had 50 words to play with and had to use the word Snap in their stories.
At the end of the hour each of them had a story, but for one seven year old it was the first she had ever written.
A refugee from Bhutan, one of the many discoveries she has made since coming here is the joy of books and reading, and on that day of writing.
It is that love of reading and writing which underpins the festival and gives it special significance in the National Year of Reading.
An initiative by Australian libraries and library associations, the National Year of Reading has been linking already existing activities involving books, reading and literacy, and giving them an extra boost through range of inspirational programs and events taking place across the country.
When an event such as Write around the Murray comes around we need to be reminded that not everybody reads; almost half the population struggle without literacy skills to meet the most basic demands of everyday life and work.
According to the National Year of Reading website, 46 percent of Australians can’t read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle.
Raising the literacy rates is not an easy ask; it takes a concerted effort by the community as a whole and begins in the home supported by programs such as Baby Bounce and Storytime at our libraries.
Festivals like Write around the Murray now in its sixth year also play a part.
Toward the end of 2006 a group of passionate readers, writers, booksellers and English teachers formed a small committee aimed at establishing a writers’ festival in the region.
AlburyCity library staff were part of those early discussions and as it turned out the timing to make the plan a reality was serendipitous.
The new LibraryMuseum, scheduled to open in July 2007 would be the venue for the inaugural AlburyCity event.
An integral part of the festival was, and still is, the schools program giving students from kindergarten through to Year 12 the opportunity to hear from their favourite writers.
It offers the same opportunity to older readers and for writers the chance to learn more about their craft through workshops and more recently one- on -one mentoring sessions with writers, editors and publishers.
A popular event introduced in 2010, the Book of the Festival encourages people to read one book and then come along to the in conversation with The Age literary editor, Jason Steger.
In the National Year of Reading the festival is offering two recent Australian novels, Charlotte Wood’s Animal People and Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper.
The conversations about the books are not esoteric, but a chance for readers to learn more about how the writers develop their characters and stories and then to ask questions.
For it is storytelling that is at the heart of the Write around the Murray Festival; from picture books to memoir and fiction that gives us a new view of the world we live in, or reminds us of a world and events that we hope remain in history.
In this National Year of Reading, the festival is one big story time.