The Wheeler Centre ushers in next chapter

Brooke Boland

Mentorship and money — The Wheeler Centre announces new initiative to support marginalised writers.
The Wheeler Centre ushers in next chapter

Image: supplied.

‘There is no better or more exciting feeling than when you are building something new, have been working on something quietly behind the scenes for literally months if not years, and finally you get to the point where you can start to talk about it,' Michael Williams, Director of the Wheeler Centre told ArtsHub.

Williams is talking about The Next Chapter, a new initiative from the Wheeler Centre that will support the next generation of writers in developing their work and connecting with the publishing and writing industry. 

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Supported by the Aesop Foundation, the scheme will award ten emerging and early career writers with $15,000 each and also match them with a mentor. Writers will be selected by a panel of judges, including Benjamin Law, Ellen van Neerven and Maxine Beneba Clarke. 

‘Two things were crucial in ensuring I could build a sustainable writing career: mentorship and money. The Next Chapter is going to help ten writers so much, and I’m thrilled that we – as readers – also get to be its beneficiaries in the long run,' said Law.

Entries are now open until Friday 13 July 2018.

‘Longevity will not only benefit readers. The Next Chapter will help selected writers build a long-term career,' said Williams. 

‘I think that in recent years, we have become very good at celebrating the next big thing and doing the big splash. But actually, the follow through is quite hard. How do you get to a second or third book? How do you build a career and an audience and a body of work?’ he said.

‘It’s not like writers join this scheme, they get their year, and then they’re done and they move onto their next year of writing. We want to work closely with them, through to publication, through to the moment their books are in libraries and in reader’s hands. What will happen is that at the end of year one we will take on another group of ten, and at the end of year two we will take on another group of ten, and suddenly we’ll have 30 writers at different stages and all of whom we are engaged with and we’re excited by.’

Diversity isn’t a buzzword – this time

To make sure they got the eligibility and application process right, Williams and his team consulted with a variety of different organisations across Australia. 

‘For this scheme to succeed it needs to be genuinely national and so we needed to understand what it means to get it into places from Western Sydney to Western Australia. To understand, what are the different needs in the different communities we want to get it to?’ said Williams. 

‘We went to arts disability organisations and we went to LGBTIQA creative writing competitions. We went to conventional Writers’ Centre’s and we went to First Nations writing workshops.  

‘We want this to be available to anyone. Anyone who has a story – and there are lots of stories out there – should feel like this is for them. There are a myriad of reasons as to why people feel things like this aren’t for them. Our job as we saw it was to find ways to get rid of those obstacles’, he explained. 

The feedback from such organisations is now reflected in the scheme. An example can be seen in the application process, which now includes a parallel nomination process. This means you can nominate yourself, or someone you know.

‘We had feedback from several quite different communities, all saying “You’re assuming the person is going to be a good self-advocate”. But what we see again and again are amazing artists, amazing writers, who are very good at their art form but don’t put themselves forward. They don’t belong to a tradition that spends a lot of time putting in arts funding grant applications. This is an obstacle straight away for a whole lot of people who would really benefit from being involved in the scheme’, said Williams.

So who, exactly, is eligible to apply? The Next Chapter is for writers who aren’t being served by existing publishing infrastructure and writing opportunities. One part of the selection criteria considers “impact” - in other words, how the scheme will impact the applicant’s career in light of ways in which the publishing industry was previously inaccessible. 

A commitment to celebrating writers who reflect the diversity of Australian identities and experiences underpins the scheme’s aims to reach marginalised groups and individuals. But, as Williams is quick to point out, defining and recognising “diversity” is a difficult task, especially when it becomes the criteria for an opportunity. 

’One of the challenges you have when you talk about diversity like this is it’s a bit buzz-wordy. Because it is shorthand, there’s a kind of inefficiency to it’, he said. 

‘No one writer is diverse, what’s diverse is a group of writers … It’s actually only when you have ten writers and then 20 writers and then 30 writers and on and on, that you start to get a glimpse of the incredible richness of both experience and perspective, but also of writing style, of literary genres of experimentation.

‘The best literature embraces diversity, embraces breadth and it embraces risk. And the more this scheme goes on, the more I think we are going to see examples of that,’ Williams concluded. 

Learn more about The Next Chapter and how to apply at thenextchapter.wheelercentre.com 

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

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