A weekend celebration of Greek Australian writers, Dean Kalimniou explores the very first Antipodes Writers Festival
"Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals." - John Steinbeck.
"Constantly searching / in these underground rooms / to find you / to reach you / to tell you something..." - Antigone Kefala.
"So this is the Antipodes Writers Festival," the effervescent journalist, media personality and author Angela Pippos exclaimed in the vestibule of the Wheeler Centre, as the strong tones of Koraly Dimitriadis' unique poetry performance resounded through the doors, losing none of their intensity in the process. "So where are all your berets?"
An apt remark if there ever was one. For if there was one thing that emerged from the recent Antipodes Writers Festival, is that the gamut of Australian writers of Greek descent is so diverse, their topics, styles, languages of choice, message and values so unique that it would be difficult, nay futile to seek to find common threads through all of them. From its commencement, a scintillating conversation between the much lauded and yet touchingly humble and very human Christos Tsiolkas and the sagacious and personable Professor Nick Papastergiadis on aspects of literature as they pertain to multiculturalism, broader Australian society and our relationship with Greece, to its conclusion, a homage and critical look at the works of some of our most important and long-standing poetic voices, those of Antigone Kefala, Nikos Nomikos and Dina Amanatidou, the Festival gave voice to a surprisingly remarkable array of talent, in fields unsuspected.
The brainchild of academics and literati Konstandina Dounis and Helen Nickas, the Antipodes Writers Festival, held under the auspices of the Greek Community's Antipodes Festival truly gives lie to the oft cited cliche that our community is not capable of showcasing anything more elevated than the bouzouki and the souvlaki. Here, two passionate academics who are closely integrated within the Greek community share their passion for Greek and Greek-related letters by conceiving on a grand project - to bring together all those for whom writing is a way of life, provide them with the opportunity to share or discuss their work and that of other writers and, together with the large public that attended the weekend festival, seek variously to define, redefine or cast aside categorisations as to where and to whom they belong.
Such an enterprise is not an easy one for the term "Greek writers" is a loaded one, carrying with it a great deal of historical and other baggage. Nonetheless, it became apparent during the course of the Festival, that there are a multitude of groupings around which writers belonging to our community coalesce, while refusing to be restricted by the broad terms of reference of such groupings. Greek language writers, especially poets, primarily belong to the first generation (though in the case of the irrepressible George Zangalis, his work and activism for the rights of workers is an example of harnessing the strengths of Hellenism in order to effect social change) and in a session chaired by the luminescent Associate Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Helen Nickas and Konstandina Dounis, accomplished translators of Greek-Australia literature in their own right, discussed with the diatribist, the need to preserve and translate the canon of Greek language Australian literature, in order for it to become a reference point to the coming generations, who as it became apparent from subsequent discussions were largely not cognizant of and unaffected by writings in the Greek language, which they find inaccessible.
English speaking writers were viewed closely within the Festival and their motivation and viewpoints were truly fascinating. Some are still grappling with their Greek heritage as an unshakeable burden. In this regard, angry younger generation writers (and Professor Vrasidas Karalis did point out the symbolic truism that "killing one's parents" is an act of emancipation), would have done well to heed Christos Tsiolkas poignant observation that upon maturer consideration, there is much to be gained from the simple dignity, decency and positivity that can be found among members of the first generation.
Others have been able to look past perceived generation gaps and incorporate aspects of their Greek identity into their fight for social justice (Jeanne Vithoulkas), as a broad brush stroke on a canvas replete with a multitude of global influences (Luka Haralambous and Angela Kosti) or as the foundation and backdrop for the acquisition of diverse literary inspirations that lead to the creating of truly polished and accomplished verse (Tina Giannoukos). Indeed, in Jeanne Vithoulkas and Tina Giannoukos, their functional bilingualism gives rise to a nuance and sensitivity of thought which is breathtaking. In the case of the ingenious Angela Pippos, such an identity can even be used to augment and provide a workable and successful point of reference for a most unlikely and ostensibly unHellenic pursuit - being a devotee of the AFL.
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