Literary festivals have been around for a long time, and they present the perfect opportunity to celebrate literature and to connect a community of booklovers. However, their role expands beyond the pages, and in reality they take on the much bigger role of shaping our communities. 

While writers’ festivals started as a means of facilitating networking opportunities between industry professionals – publishers, agents, authors, and others involved in the publishing scene –, they have grown to occupy a much more important role over the years. From industry events to mainstream institutions, they are now much better known for their varied cultural inputs. As such, they’re simultaneously social spaces, cultural projects and political platforms. So how do writers’ festivals shape our communities? 

Writers’ festivals’ role in culture

In the last half century, literary festivals have flourished in number, popularity and geographic reach. As a result, they have grown to become the celebrations of words, stories and the shared human experience on a larger scale – and by extension, a celebration of the importance of arts and culture. This shift in purpose has aided the progress of literary events, their funding from government bodies, and their contribution to the general population’s perception of the arts and their importance. 

In some cases – like that of Melbourne – prominent writers’ festivals can even influence the perception of an entire city: hence the title Melbourne – The City of Literature. Joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network is acknowledgment of the breadth, depth and vibrancy of the city’s literary culture. But more than that, in the long term, it acts as a wider signifier of the importance of all culture in one area, which creates the perfect cycle: more investment in cultural events and practices, more people visiting for this reason, and therefore more demand. And voilà: a writers’ festival (among other things, of course) has made a place a real cultural hub. 

As providers of entertainment and drivers of tourist revenue, there’s definitely an element of commercialisation to writers’ festivals too – however, their positive contribution to the popularity of arts and culture outweighs these connotations. 

Writers’ festivals’ role in politics

As an arena of intellectual debate, a platform to express opinions – literary, political, and otherwise – and a place where an increasingly varied group of people congregate, it is only natural that literary festivals have a role in politics too. As political platforms, writers’ festivals give attendees the opportunity to engage with thoughtful, mediated conversations and to learn new ideas from fresh, often authentic sources. 

Today’s digital age also means that these ideas and politically inclined debates not only enjoy the attention of in-person attendees, but also tap into digital and international conversations – and allow the audience to add to these conversations too. 

As such, writers’ festivals have grown to be events that contribute to the wider public’s engagement in issues and ideas of broader interest to society. Their role is no longer merely to connect readers and writers – although, of course, that is a significant part of it – but rather to facilitate a wider range of connections between writers, the media and the wider public. While writers still use these events to meet other writers, readers, and to network, these festivals have grown in function and duties over the last couple of decades. This has expanded the purpose of literature festivals, making them play a significant role in local and international politics too. 

Writers’ festivals’ role in shaping the next generation

One of the most significant roles of literary festivals is in shaping future generations’ perceptions of the power of words. Fortunately, children of all ages have more and more opportunities to practise reading and writing, and to be rewarded for literary, cultural, and political efforts. As a result, these festivals pass on very important messages about the nature of our communities to those young people who have the chance to listen. 

At Storyfest, we believe that giving children the chance to familiarise themselves with books, their authors, and writing as a career option can lead to positive benefits experienced by the whole community. 

After all, Somerset Storyfest was 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. Since then, Storyfest’s calendar of events has been expanded regularly, with an ever evolving roster of literary programmes bringing a love of literature to more and more children and adults, both along the coast and in regional Queensland. 

As Storyfest CEO Andrea Lewis put it, “what we do has the power to strengthen community relationships.”

The next generation will play an integral part in all of the above: culture, politics, and enduring community ties. By giving them the opportunity to be involved in the literary space, we also give them the tools to shape the future in the best possible way. And isn’t that in everyone’s best interest? 

Overall, literary festivals serve a variety of functions. They celebrate and market books and writers, offer space for public debate, and perform important social functions as public events – making them an important cornerstone of every community. 

Want to know what Storyfest is doing to take its literary events to even more remote locations? Click here!