Author appearances usually are just that: Appearances, where audience members get to hear about what went into the creation of an already-published book and maybe queue up for signed copies afterward. No chance of contributing to the creative process itself, of course.
Until now, that is. Come Saturday, physical and virtual attendees of the AJC Decatur Book Festival will not only see two established writers create new works in front of their eyes — they’ll get to supply some of the words themselves.
“Memory Makes Us” is a live, interactive-and-then-some writing event that is making its U.S. debut at the popular festival. Creator Simon Groth launched it in 2013 in Australia as a one-off pilot project, then repeated it three more times Down Under where it became a hit. While the idea of trying it out internationally appealed to him, he knew the setting had to have the right vibe.
Enter the DBF.
“The more I learned about the festival’s friendly atmosphere and this year’s theme of #READDifferent, the more I realised what a great venue it will be,” Groth said via email last weekend. “And I’m curious to see what differences and similarities emerge between American and Australian participants.”
(Here’s a tip for Mr. Groth: Get ready for at least a few college football-related “memories” being contributed here!)
Here’s how it works: For six hours on Saturday, two writers, including Atlanta favorite Randy Osborne, will sit before computers in a centrally-located tent on the festival grounds in downtown Decatur. Each will write on a pre-selected theme, which in Osborne’s case is “Hunger.” All the while, they’ll be incorporating memories submitted on that particular topic, either on-the-spot by festival-goers or online at the project’s website (You don’t have to wait for Saturday to get started: Go now to http://www.memorymakesus.org.au/live-authors/decatur-ga/ to submit a memory).
The works-in-progress will be displayed to the DBF audience on large screens and also fed to the project web site so that people anywhere else from Melbourne to Macon can watch and take part. Afterwards, the finished works will reside on the web site for some time, then gradually start to fade away and leave us with what Groth describes as a window into our way of remembering things: “Imperfect, fleeting and personal.”
Still, nothing happens without the right two writers sitting in front of those very exposed computers. Groth is bringing along a ringer of sorts in Paddy O’Reilly, an Australian novelist and previous “Memory Makes Us” participant (Her theme on Saturday will be “Neighborhood”). But he and the DBF folks probably couldn’t have found a more ideal person to pair her with than Osborne, a published essayist and poet who is perhaps even better known here for unfurling a series of highly creative and entertaining writing projects in the public space.
“They saw how unusual this was,” Osborne said of the festival organizers, “And I like to do unusual things.
Indeed, Osborne is the clever person behind “Narrative Urge,” a 2011 literary scavenger hunt of sorts that featured fragmented quotes encased in envelopes that popped up mysteriously around the city, and the more recent “Letter A Day” project where he strove to revive the lost art of letter-writing, mostly by corresponding with strangers.
After all that, how hard could it possibly be to just sit and write about hunger for six hours?
“Paddy and I have communicated, and she’s only told me to prepare to be very exhausted afterwards,” chuckled Osborne, who also hopes the people submitting memories won’t all take his chosen literary theme too, uh, literally. “I’m thinking of ‘hunger’ in terms of yearning and desire and craving. “I hope hunger for food is not all that I get. But if it is, I’ll work with it.”
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