Women Of Letters

Apply WithinFor the most part, my reading and writing time is spent in silence, which is precisely the way I like it. In fact, my favourite after-lunch (or any-time) activity in primary school was what was called USSR, a play on the initialism for the former country that for us stood for Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading. For me, avid reader that I am, it was an immediate and welcome afternoon treat, albeit a too-short one.

Sustained, silent, and largely uninterrupted reading will always be my primary method of enjoying and absorbing words and language, but I was reminded yesterday of the joy of having others read to you. It was also a huge part of primary school, and listening rapt as someone read aloud to me was something that left a lasting, positive impression.

Primary school memories were not what I was expecting to have invoked when I attended the most recent adult—and by that I mean, licensed, ID-requiring, occasional but not gratuitous swear-word employing—Women of Letters event in Brisbane.

I missed the first one out of, well, a lack of getting myself organising to procure a ticket before they were all snapped up, and have rued it ever since. Everyone who went said it was brilliant, and that they laughed, cried, and were generally all-round inspired (my friend Kirsty wrote a particularly brilliant account). So when one of my friends offered to organise me by buying group tickets for this one, I jumped at the chance.

The premise of the Women of Letters literary event, just in case you haven’t heard of it, is an afternoon that celebrates talented women writers, musicians, comedians, and other professionals and the ‘lost art’ of letter writing. Each event is unique and the invited panel of fabulous women read out a letter they’ve written on a particular theme.

The event was thought up by two talented writers: Marieke Hardy, who you may be familiar with from Triple J, Frankie magazine, The First Tuesday Bookclub, and a variety of shows and columns she’s written; and Michaela Maguire, whose book Apply Within: Careers of Career Sabotage is one with which many of us who’ve worked some fairly horrid jobs while trying to make ends meet and study and just generally live can relate to. Proceeds go to Victorian-based animal shelter, Edgar’s Mission, adding a feel-good factor to the afternoon of inspiration and fun.

It’s incredibly difficult to convey in typed words how fantastic this event is, and I’m loathe to pull the you-should-have-been-there line. Think a cosy, dimly lit room packed to the max with eager ‘readers’ enjoying good food, good wine, and good company, being entertained by intelligent, savvy, witty, incredible women who offer their take on a given theme. The intimacy of letter writing coupled with the intimate venue in which they’re read out, I think, give you insight into these women’s most private, most honest selves.

The most recent Brisbane event’s (and Women of Letters plays out regularly in other cities too) theme was love letters, and the likes of Kate Miller-Heidke, Kris Olsson, The Greats singer Patience, and Morag Kobez-Halvorson wrote love letters to their 12-year-old self, the alphabet, New York City, and their absent health, respectively. This saw them:

  • liken a boyfriend to a Clydesdale and themselves to a vine that needed to be free
  • explain how they knew it was time to wean their child when they were old enough and articulate enough to tap the other breast and say in a ‘udder one’ in a lispy voice when one was empty (and yes, the inadvertent udder-for-other replacement was uncanny)
  • tell us that the letters of the alphabet are spelt out on the wings of butterflies (this one I don’t wish to double check because I so want it to be true)
  • point out how important it is to locate an ovary as a point of reference before intimating that you think there might be a five-centimetre, cancerous growth in the area of the roughly five-centimetre-long ovary
  • and show us how it’s possible to express your love for and connection to someone as ‘I need you like a tourist needs a toilet’.

Diverse, eclectic, impossible to predict, thought-provoking, entertaining, and distinctly their own voice and style, these ladies and their letters were all brilliant. I’ll be signing up early for this form of out-loud reading the very next time Women of Letters visits my town.