caravan conversations at mwf
Within the chaos of Melbourne’s Federation Square, there sits a modest caravan. Beyond the rounded windows the square is full of people. You can hear the clip-clopping of befeathered clydesdales leading grinning tourists in gilded carriages. You can smell the petrol fumes of heavy traffic, and watch a cheeky busker crack a whip and do magic tricks.
Inside the caravan it is warm; the afternoon sun has heated the metal Airstream to a cosy temperature. Visitors stepping in are invited to take a seat at a small round table that summons images of a 1950s family tucking in to a meal of Spam. Guests are handed a cup of tea by one of the delightful Dumbo Feather staff (most likely Amandine Thomas, the mag’s Art Director), and very soon, a mystery writer will pop in to the caravan, head bent through the low doorway.
This is Caravan Conversations, a series of Melbourne Writers Festival events curated by creativity magazine, Dumbo Feather. A different beast to the rows of chairs in darkened rooms with an audience of hundreds focused on the stage-lit panel; here, you gather in a tight space with an audience of five, an interviewer (Dumbo Feather’s Assistant Editor Nathan Scolaro) and a surprise writer. Your knees may touch. The writer will probably be able to see your notes. It’s impossible to livetweet because the author is right next to you – it would be rude.
When I popped into the caravan, Ahmad Fuadi was the star of the day. An Indonesian novelist, his trilogy has sold half a million copies in his home country. With a broad toothy smile, he detailed the story of Negeri 5 Menara that was based, in large part, on his own personal experiences. ‘My life is like Harry Potter,’ he explained, ‘Except without the magic.’
Granting each audience member with eager eye contact, Fuadi tells his tale: a village upbringing, a place in an Islamic boarding college far from home, and a life built on hopeful faith. He tells us an Arabic proverb: Man jadda wajada – ‘He who gives all will surely succeed.’
We discover Fuadi is passionate about education. Following the huge success of his writing (a novel turned trilogy, a movie deal, talks with game developers) the author is giving back to his country and now funds schools in underprivileged areas in Indonesia. Together with his wife Danya Dewanti, Fuadi founded Komunitas Menara for this purpose, which has built five free pre-schools in the countryside.
Caravan conversations may seem confronting when we are used to the anonymity of the crowd. But this intimacy, along with the afternoon sunlight pouring through the rounded window, is what makes the scene golden; you, the audience, matter too, and are allowed to contribute.
Lou Heinrich travelled to Melbourne for MWF with the assistance of the South Australian Government through Carclew.This content was originally produced for the Melbourne Writers Festival blog.