If I were to describe Maryanne Vagg, Festival Director of Geelong’s Word for Word Non-fiction Festival, in a single word, it would be a toss-up between passionate and visionary. Maryanne’s enthusiasm both for the Festival and for Geelong is, frankly, infectious. Maryanne is ‘passionate about reading’ and furthermore, ‘passionate in the belief that there is a book for everybody.’
In 2014, Maryanne, an experienced festival director, identified a gap in the literary festival calendar; a festival to accommodate the growing number of non-fiction authors. Encouraged by her vision and enthusiasm Geelong Regional Libraries, together with several stakeholders, including Deakin University and the City of Greater Geelong, jumped at the chance to hold a festival and showcase Geelong. Word for Word Non-fiction Festival is now in its fourth year. It is the only Non-fiction Festival in Australia.
Maryanne is firm in the belief that a non-fiction festival works in Geelong not only because ‘of its unique premise but also because it is really important we celebrate the fact that we are a city of learning. Geelong is a clever city. Culturally we need to have these kind of conversations; encourage people to read for pleasure and enjoyment.’ The annual increase in ticket sales indicates that the people of Geelong agree. Over the years the festival has grown in stature, showcasing some of Australia’s most vibrant and celebrated writers.
Maryanne’s journey to become a successful Festival Director has followed ‘a long and curving road.’ The signposts along the way could read; ‘a broad-based Arts degree with a bit of Law thrown in’, Teaching degree, Marketing and Publicity Qualification, Ballarat Begonia Festival, Master’s Degree in Librarianship, management of major shopping centre events, Programmer and Festival Director of the Gold Coast’s Library’s Literati Festival, Geelong Regional Library’s Children’s and Youth Coordinator and Manager of Life Long Learning.
Maryanne is also Manager of Events and Programming at the Geelong Library, which produces a popular program of author presentations. Although Maryanne endeavours to eliminate risks when dealing with authors she’s always prepared for the unexpected. ‘Non-fiction authors usually have a day job and are organised. But the authors of fiction often live in their own world. You are dealing with creative people for who details are not always a priority.’ Flexibility is a given, whether supporting nervous writers who are attending their first festival or meeting the high expectations of more experienced authors. Or, collecting authors who get off at the wrong station. And on one occasion, supporting the author who took a novel approach to arriving at Belmont Library’s High Street address by driving over the gardens to pull up at the front door.
Maryanne’s advice to those pursuing a career as a festival director: ‘be open to opportunities that come your way. I’m not afraid to be hands-on. Getting a qualification is important but only if it is going to enhance what you are doing. You can start working in an industry and qualify as you go along. I found, as I acquired various skills, the learning enhanced what I was already doing, so learning and doing at the same time, is really important.’
Maryanne is excited to be part of Geelong’s emerging creative direction. ‘Geelong’s zeitgeist around being ‘clever and creative’ has grown over the past four years. The silo mentality is breaking down, there is a lot more collaboration. There are some very, very interesting people doing interesting things in Geelong. I feel really privileged to be in a position to work in that space and collaborate with other creative people. And I enjoy the lifestyle we have here! I’m proud of Geelong and really excited to be in this space. So, Geelong is kind of the place to be right now.’
The 2017 Word for Word Non-fiction Festival –Go Beneath the Surface – is a national festival of ideas, debate and conversation. Drawing on writers, thinkers and speakers from across the broad spectrum of academia, journalism, science, sport, politics and more.
Dates: 17 – 19 November, 2017.
Tickets available: http://www.wordforwordfestival.com.au/
Story: Jacqui Connor Photo: Mike Dugdale