It’s always hard to attend the opening night of an inaugural festival. There seems to be this air of desperation and unbridled hope. For the organizers, it’s the final culmination of many hours of hard work. For the audience, expectations are set high.
You could definitely feel that level of expectation from the strong crowd at the 2012 opening night of the Antipodes Writers Festival.
The sold out night was full of Australia’s most prominent members of the Greek community and many more who just like a good book. The Christos Tsiolkas and Nikos Papastergiadis conversation was an insight into the world of writers and the importance of Greek culture in Australia. With an over the top introduction full of praise that made both modest writers seem uncomfortable, they settled down comfortably for a two hour conversation about what makes them tick.
Carried by a very eloquent and funny Papastergiadis, the talk touched on topics from Greeks in crisis, current affairs in Australia, migration, and identity concerns for our multicultural youth. All topics weaved into themes the writers themselves experienced and used in their books.
Using the metaphor of a slap from Tsiolkas’ latest book, the writers were able to talk about conflict, about changes in society and transitions in their lives. Tsiolkas mentioned his identity always conflicted with him. He said he is “neither Greek nor Australian, [but is] the dash in between”. In saying so, he was quick to note that the relationship he has with what defines Greek and what defines Australian has changed over the years.
At times, Tsiolkas seemed pained, maybe it was because he found the topics hard to express or more that he is still grappling with them, but Papastergiadis helped him along.
The story of Greek migrants is a tough one to cover in a short time, but using humour the authors gave great insight into the world they and their parents entered into. The biggest laugh came following Papastergiadis’ comment, “At what point did Greek move from slimy to sexy?”.
Apart from one rude question directed to Tsiolkas about his writing not being student friendly, the audience questions were hard hitting and rightfully praiseworthy.
The evening definitely set high standards for the rest of the festival.