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Enthralled by the Buzz at the Sydney Writers’ Festival

Sydney Writers' Festival 2023

On Thursday, Ms Barrie and I were lucky enough to spend the day with Year 10 Applied Philosophy and Year 11 Extension English students at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The excursion had been meticulously organised by Mr Roberts who has attended the Festival many times over the past few years.

We were treated to three wonderful and varied sessions; how to formulate an argument in a clear and concise way by champion debater Bo Seo, the importance of Shakespeare in our world today with Laura Murphy and Joanna Erskine, and finally, the importance of reading and studying literary works with academics and experts Michael Parker and Fiona Morrison.

The boys were enthralled by the buzz of the event, where large numbers of students listened and asked questions of the speakers.

Below are some student reflections on the sessions.

Sydney Writers' Festival 2023

Lachlan Miranda (Year 11)

During the day at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, students from Years 10 and 11 were able to develop their understanding of the world through the lens of literature by engaging in three keynote lectures. The first session was given by Bo Seo who is a two-time world champion debater and former coach of the Australian and Harvard debate teams. As a debater, I was able to relate to all the analogies Seo gave.

He dissected the forms of features of a formal debate and applied them to an everyday argument, thus everyone was able to relate to the metaphor as a whole. Seo invoked the cruciality of dialogue in our social media-saturated society, by understanding the components that develop an argument into a case. He spoke about the art of articulation and how this is essential to maintain the audience’s attention and further convince them of your point of view.

Bo Seo also touched on how to apply ethos (ethics), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) to an argument, and really break down a discussion point into several separate conversations. Debating was used continuously throughout the presentations as a metaphor for life.

The most notable point of the presentation was the importance of listening. Listening to one another’s point of view on a certain topic allows you to reconsider your own perspective, but may also allow an individual to question the integrity of their own case, thus making their once flawed arguments much stronger to their own case.

Seo once again made this point relevant as young people’s attention span or attention quotient (AQ) diminishes as a result of the short-form media content that adolescents are uncontrollably exposed to on a daily basis, people are listening less. Thus the art of debating is becoming critical in shaping young thinkers, and listeners, of the future. 

Kayden Baker (Year 10) Ye Olde New Shakespeare Speaker Notes

Laura Murphy (Shakespeare-inspired composer and lyricist for The Dismissal) and Joanna Erskin (playwright, producer, Head of Education at Bell Shakespeare, NIDA graduate), spoke around the adaptation of Shakespeare not being a new idea, whereby, his works have been adapted in modern pieces and displays observed today.

Re-imaginings or takings of essence from Shakespeare contribute to today’s entertainment significantly. Shakespeare adaptations feed into modern Australian entertainment and continue to do so frequently. Laura Murphy observes the innate interest of infusing past works with an essence of your own, recognising Shakespeare’s transcendent nature and legacy.

Joanna Erskin believes that there is no piece or work that defines the constructs of humanity, the beauty and flaws of our existence than Shakespeare’s. Shakespeare is illuminated as a thief, stealing ideas and essences of work around him, whereby he simply took it and made it better. Thus, we have the capacity to alter his work and make it our own, resonating our ideas with his in future works. There is an inherent value in staging his works and altering them for future entertainment. 

Ewan McDonald (Year 11)

The third and final talk of the Writers’ Festival was entitled ‘Why Should We Study This Rubbish?’. The speakers were experts in education and literature and provided a thought-provoking, new perspective on why we should read, how we determine what texts are considered one of the “greats”, and whether or not those books are worth studying in the modern era.

The fascinating talk delved into the world of reading in our current society, a world laced with new technologies, new ideas and new distractions. With this in mind, speakers Michael Parker and Fiona Morrison recommended various new books to add both to a literary canon that fits the 21st century and to our own reading lists. Books such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go came highly recommended to add to our bookshelf.

The talk also dived into the advantages and disadvantages in studying these bulwarks of Western Literature. Overall, the talk broadened our perceptions of the power of literature and how that power can be transposed into the modern age.

Sydney Writers' Festival 2023