COVID-19 forces Melbourne Writers Festival to shift online

The impact of the new coronavirus and the restrictions imposed to counter it have forced the Melbourne Writers Festival to shift to an entirely online program this year. It was due to run from August 7 to 16 at the State Library and the Wheeler Centre.

Gene Smith, associate director of MWF, says the festival is exploring online options.Credit:Leah Jing McIntosh

Associate director Gene Smith said while the decision hadn't come as a complete surprise, he was nevertheless devastated. "We have been contacting all our stakeholders, publishers, artists, partners and supporters."

Smith said normally the festival would have its schedule of events organised by the end of April. "We put a pause on proceedings around the time we had to start working from home in mid-March. Our roster of international artists was in place and we were in the process of sending out invitations to Australian authors."

He hopes to have some of what he had already programmed, and that the artists would still be able to participate. "Some of the events will stay relevant, but obviously now there would be a lot more to talk about. We are going to have to recalibrate to bring the conversations to what is happening now, here and overseas."

Smith said it was too early to be precise about how the festival would appear, but he expected an increase of content online in the second half of the year, with a "peak in August".

"We're in a pretty interesting time where we're exploring and scoping what can be done."

The Sydney Writers' Festival, which was to begin this month, was cancelled in the middle of March, but has promised an increase in online events, including a conversation between Annabel Crabb and Malcolm Turnbull about his new memoir, and a digital festival beginning on May 1.

And the Yarra Valley Writers Festival will be staging an online festival on May 9 featuring writers such as Christos Tsiolkas, Charlotte Wood, Tony Birch, Alice Bishop, David Williamson and Vicki Hastrich.

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