Benjamin Law on NYWF

Benjamin Law reflects on his favourite NYWF memories and what the National Young Writers’ Festival means to him. Benjamin appeared at #nywf13.

Newcastle will always hold a special place in my heart – not just because it’s one of the biggest neo-Nazi capitals in Australia, but also because of four letters that always strikes joy into my nerdy heart: NYWF.

It’s nearly been a decade since I first booked flights to the National Young Writers’ Festival. It was the mid-2000s, and I was an acne-ridden, pigeon-toed teenage street-press monkey from Brisbane with no idea what to expect. What I found was the most raucous, feral and essential writers’ festival in the country.

Really: where else can you spend the morning browsing zines in multi-level carparks, attend poetry readings by the sea at lunch, laughing your guts out watching an afternoon panel, before swimming in the ocean at dusk, slightly drunk and excessively naked, with someone you only just met and is now your new best friend?

Having sat on the NYWF organising committee before, I know it’s only by sheer force of will that this festival happens at all. But even when things go wrong (and they do) – the hilariously abundant scheduling mishaps; the red-faced security guards kicking people out of venues; the panels where you can tell someone’s about to spew from their hangover – it’s still damn memorable.

Go to the festival long enough, and you’ll start getting all misty-eyed, recalling your favourite moments from over the years. Mine include Anna Krien standing up and declaring bullshit on a particularly dreary session; Lawrence Leung calming down a comedy panel that erupted into accusations of racism; and Tom Doig’s aggressive and insistent impulse to show off his genitals whenever possible.

If this is your first time at the festival, it’s entirely possible you’ll make some of your best friends at NYWF. Personally speaking, it’s because of NYWF that I can travel to any most Australian city or town nowadays – from Alice Springs to Melbourne, Hobart to Perth – in the lovely knowledge that I’ll have at least one buddy there, because we bonded over a dinner or beer in Newcastle.

Technically, NYWF is a young writers’ festival. I’m 31 now, and not exactly sure when I’ll stop qualifying as a young writer. But I’ll be damned if I’m prevented from attending as a 76-year-old. It’s just too much fun, goddammit.