Coonabarabran's Feast of Words
Coonabarabran High School’s Feast of Words Festival has become a tradition since being implemented in 2011, aiming to foster a love of literature and give students the opportunity to engage with professional writers in a fun, educational and interactive week.
Over time this Festival has ‘significantly improved’ the level of engagement in writing at the school. In the words of the Parents and Citizens Association, the event ‘makes life in a small town special’, through artistically expressing what it means to live in the area. Low levels of parental income, isolation from major centres and cultural experiences, along with a high percentage of Indigenous students are all factors that make the program so important and so highly valued within the school year. Funding for the event, however, is always a struggle.
Making use of an FRRR Small Grants for Rural Communities grant of $4,500, funded by The Yulgilbar Foundation, an eclectic group of writers was invited to the 2018 event, some familiar with Coonabarabran and the local area, and others who were not. Well-known Australian writer, journalist and critic Anna Maria Dell’oso joined the Festival for the first time. She presented to students on creative writing, and her workshops were highly engaging for students across the cohort.
Another of the writers was Alex Tighe, a journalist and previous student of the school. His inclusion in the line-up of presenters gave students a role model and an understanding that success in the creative world is possible. He spoke about the impact of the Feast of Words on him when he was at school, and the event was in its first year.
A community dinner offered a chance for the authors to share their professional and personal journeys over dinner, with an audience of community members and supporters of the Festival.
The final day of the Festival’s first course ended with a Q&A session in the school library, with students crowding the writers' table, asking questions about their favourite authors and advice about the future long after the final bell had rung.
Tighe and another journalist, Justine Landis-Hanley, donated their time to the Feast of Words, which enabled the organisers to juggle their grant funds to invite World Champion Slam Poet Zohab Zee Khan to present. His attendance fee was more affordable if included as part of his wider tour of NSW, and so a decision was made to hold a second event, called ‘Feast of Words – The Second Course’ to fit in with this timing. This poetry bootcamp was most successful, and benefitted both students and adults.
The Feast of Words Festival proved a valuable opportunity to engage students in an aspect of English that many find daunting and difficult, and resulted in greater engagement in English classes, particularly in creative writing as evidenced by the formation of a member-driven Creative Writing Club, based on the one that Justine Landis-Hanley captained when she was at school.