Australia’s leading children’s literature organisation is turning 30 this year. Storyfest CEO and Festival Director Andrea Lewis started out as a festival volunteer over 22 years ago – she looks back on the past three decades as she prepares for the biggest and best festival yet, a literary feast like never before. 

Storyfest Writers’ Festival has come a long way over the past 30 years. It has grown from a once-a-year Somerset College event to a year-wide calendar of literary events spanning not only the Gold Coast, but regional Queensland too. But how did a school initiative come to be Australia’s most prominent children’s literature festival?

The history of Storyfest

Storyfest started out as the Somerset Celebration of Literature in 1993, founded by Gold Coasters who believed that an annual literary festival would benefit not only the students of Somerset College, but the wider Gold Coast community too. The first festival was put together through the connections of the five founders – then College Librarian Gail Parr, Head of English Lorraine Pilgrim, ABC journalist Karen Berkman, Graeme Gardiner and Wendy O’Regan – and parents of the College, securing the likes of Miles Franklin award winner Peter Carey and international best-seller Colleen McCullough. The first festival was a success, and Somerset Celebration of Literature became an annual occasion set on the grounds of Somerset College.

From the beginning, the glue that held the festival together was the dedicated volunteers who were committed to the mission of bringing kids and books together. These volunteers were often parents of Somerset students, or those in the community who had an affinity for literary initiatives. 

Andrea Lewis happened to be both, and with a background in international events management, she soon went from volunteer to Events Coordinator, then Events Manager. It was in her 13th year of working for Somerset College that an opportunity arose to make the festival bigger and better – but for that, they needed to become independent from the College. What started out as a discussion with the City of Gold Coast as part of a city-wide strategy to enhance arts and culture led to the creation of a literary entity standing on its own: and thus, Storyfest was born. 

As part of the change, Storyfest went from an annual three-day festival to a year-round calendar of literary events, including the Little Lending Library initiative, the On the road… programme, various business and corporate opportunities, as well as an ever-growing list of community projects. Astoundingly, although unsurprisingly, Storyfest tripled its turnover. With a core mission of introducing more and more children to a love of literature, Storyfest has been using this turnover to invest in more programmes, exciting new projects, and even more opportunities to connect children with books and foster a love of storytelling.

A new era of Storyfest

In 2018, Andrea became CEO and Festival Director of Storyfest, and in 2019 she led the first festival under the Storyfest banner. Under her leadership, Storyfest has gone from strength to strength, even with the struggles that followed COVID-19. As she says, she is very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.

Andrea believes that the success of Storyfest speaks to Gold Coasters’ appetite for a cultural community, a landscape that houses literary events like writers’ festivals alongside what it’s more widely known for, like its beaches or theme parks. Over the years, that is exactly what Storyfest has achieved. According to award-winning writer Jacqueline Harvey, “Storyfest is the festival in Australia that every author wants to be invited to.”

However, as Andrea says, their measure of success is all in the small details. 

“A lot of it is about the individual stories. There was a kid one year who didn't want to come, he wasn’t interested in any of the events. Then he got picked randomly by an author to join them on stage, got a copy of a book, started reading the book on the bus home, and when he got off the bus at the end he couldn’t wait to read the author’s other books. 

“Another time, we sponsored a school from regional Queensland to attend the festival. Coming on this bus was a senior school student who in his whole school life had only borrowed three books from the library. After the festival, he had borrowed three books in three months. It’s the little things like that.”

And what makes it all worth it for those who work tirelessly to make Storyfest happen each year?

“When you see kids treating authors like rock stars, that’s how we know we’ve done our job!”

What’s next for Storyfest?

Last year, Storyfest was taken to the regional town of Longreach for a two-day festival called Storyfest Out West, which concluded with great results. Andrea confirms that the plan is to take Storyfest even more regional in the coming years. 

“What we do on the Gold Coast is great, and we’re definitely going to keep supporting local, but there are opportunities to take Storyfest further afield. We’ve done Longreach, we’re in talks with Emerald and Saint George, we’ve even been approached by Lismore. 

Taking Storyfest Out West to Longreach was such an incredible experience for everyone involved, and it proved that what we do has the power to strengthen community relationships too. It happened because of two women in Longreach who took the bull by the horns and ran with it. When you’ve got community champions like that, that’s the key to real success.”

When asked what is next for her personally, she only laughs. 

“I’m going on a holiday – I’m tired! I’m going to sit around, do nothing, and catch up on my crime novels. I read so many kids’ books day to day, when I read for pleasure, I’m looking for something that’s a deep dive into the abyss!”

Come along to this year’s Storyfest Writers’ Festival

In celebration of its 30th year, the Storyfest Writers’ Festival will host 30 of Australia's best children’s authors across a busy calendar of writers’ workshops, author sessions, and fun events for both the young and the young at heart. With 27 local schools involved and seven more making the trip from regional towns on sponsored buses, this year promises to make up for all that COVID-19 had taken away. 

Storyfest’s past 30 years are nothing if not inspiring – but the next 30 promise to be just as exciting.

“There are so many incredible children’s authors out there. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be able to give them all a spot at some time.”

It’s not too late to book tickets to the 30th Storyfest Writers’ Festival. Just click here!