Review: Personal narratives take centre stage at the Feminist Writer’s Festival in Sydney

Established in 2016, the Feminist Writer’s Festival aims to support and promote feminist writers in Australia. For the first time this biennial festival came to Sydney, and over the course of two and a half days this writer attended a total of ten talks.

Topics of the talks ranged from Writing and Speaking Indigenous Lives and Why Women Read Fiction and Men Don’t to Resist: Words for the Feminist Activist. There were numerous highlights over the course of the festival, such as listening to Anne Summers extraordinary life story, becoming enraged at the criminalisation of abortion as the New South Wales justice system falls behind Queensland and Victoria, and being inspired by the personal reflections of women who write narrative nonfiction. However, three talks in particular really struck a chord for me.

Domestic Violence and the Law – Heather Douglas, Nan Seuffert, Jane Wangman, Cristy Clark

On average, one women is killed each week in Australia at the hands of a current or former partner. Nan Seuffert emphasised that the criminal law system in Australia wasn’t designed for the type of violence women experience. Domestic violence isn’t only physical abuse – often it is the mental abuse which leaves the most lasting scars but is more difficult to prove. Jane Wangman elaborated on this through the discussion of coercive control and how it starts small – knowing where you are all the time – and can easily escalate into physical violence.

After the Apology: Film Screening – Larissa Behrendt in conversation with Andrea Durbach

This film was heartbreaking. Film creator Larissa Behrendt has created a beautifully crafted film that centres around personal narratives. We see the impact of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the stolen generation and the heartbreaking reality that not much has changed as a result. Proving that stories are the most potent when derived from the deeply personal, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room as the lights went up.

Writing Violence, Writing Change – Amani Haydar, Nour Haydar, Jess Hill, Bri Lee, Jenna Price

Jess Hill, who has spent the last four years researching and writing a book about domestic violence, made the salient point that we have better government strategies in place to combat smoking than we do for domestic violence prevention. Focus needs to shift from women and onto the actual problem – the perpetrators of violence. Listening to the gut wrenching story of the Haydar’s sisters experience of their father murdering their mother, it became clear that often violence starts as emotional abuse, but is never given much attention by the media as it isn’t “sensational” enough. But, emotional abuse often turns into physical abuse and sometimes murder. The sisters stated that they had never seen their father hit their mother. Emotional abuse is much harder to identify. The best piece of advice came from Bri Lee when she said: “Down, not out. Keep fighting”.

I left the festival feeling inspired, enraged, optimistic, pessimistic, empowered, disempowered and overwhelmed, but with a feeling of unity. There is nothing more powerful than personal narratives; it is how we can truly make an impact and make our voices heard. If I learnt anything, it’s don’t be afraid to tell your story.

A couple of things to note if you’re thinking of attending. You do not need to be a writer to get something significant from this festival, but you do need to be a feminist, or at least someone who is interested in learning more about feminism. Having said that, you don’t need to be a woman to support equality, with a few men making an appearance, in fact it would be great to see more men supporting women in literature and the issues women of all walks of life face.

As a writer and a feminist I greatly look forward to the evolution of the Feminist Writer’s Festival in the future and hope it receives the support and recognition it deserves.


The Feminist Writer’s Festival ran from November 1-3rd 2018. More information can be found on their website

Header Image sourced from the Festival’s Flickr page.