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BWF schedules ‘right of reply’ to Lionel Shriver’s controversial BWF keynote

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) has responded to US author Lionel Shriver’s controversial opening keynote by scheduling a ‘right of reply’ event.

Shriver spoke about cultural appropriation and political correctness in her address, which was criticised by local writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied in a piece entitled ‘I walked out of the Brisbane Writers Festival Keynote Address. This is why.’

‘Her question was—or could have been—an interesting question: What are fiction writers “allowed” to write, given they will never truly know another person’s experience?’ wrote Abdel-Magied. ‘There is a fascinating philosophical argument here. Instead, however, that core question was used as a straw man. Shriver’s real targets were cultural appropriation, identity politics and political correctness. It was a monologue about the right to exploit the stories of “others”, simply because it is useful for one’s story.’

Festival volunteer Yen-Rong Wong also criticised the speech in a blog post.

BWF website director Julie Beveridge responded to the controversy by announcing that a ‘right of reply’ event would be held during the festival. In a post on the BWF website, Beveridge wrote that Shriver ‘did not speak to her brief’ and that ‘the views expressed during her address were hers alone’.

‘BWF strives for a forum where strong viewpoints and challenging conversation can be aired with respect, inclusivity and open minds. And therefore, I choose for the Opening Address to not go unanswered,’ wrote Beveridge.

The ‘right of reply’ event was led by Abdel-Magied and authors Rajith Savanadasa and Suki Kim.

According to the festival program, Shriver’s opening address was to explore ‘connection and belonging’. ‘Lionel opens this year’s Festival with her reflections on why we identify with each other in communities, and how belonging to one group shouldn’t preclude us from exploring another. As a writer who inhabits unfamiliar and sometimes unlikeable characters, Lionel is a firm believer in branching out beyond the world she inhabits. With her trademark candour and dry wit, Lionel discusses breaking boundaries, and how writing about the unknown is a form of connection in itself.’

A cached description of Shriver’s opening keynote is available here.


Category: Local news