Event co-curators Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Lee Sandwith
WOMEN of Letters, the literary event founded and co-curated by authors Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, is headed to the US next month.
The event has been a hit on cultural calendars around Australia over the past three years, with sold-out sessions from Melbourne to Newcastle. Dubbed “an afternoon of literature and correspondence”, events consist of prominent women reading out letters they have written on a particular theme.
March marks the event's first overseas outing, after months of planning. While word of mouth and a growing roster of high-profile guests has made it relatively easy to secure big-name speakers in Australia, Hardy says the US has proved harder to crack.
“In America these names mean nothing. No offense to Ita Buttrose or Helen Garner – who are, of course, incredible - but we found the agent barrier really tough to get through,” she says. “You have to try to get through these speakers' agents who charge like a $10,000 minimum speaking fee, and we try to explain that we're a charity, that we're paying our own way over and that we don't draw a wage from the show.”
Hardy, a panellist on ABC TV's First Tuesday Book Club and writer of dark comedy series Laid, and McGuire, a journalist and the author of Apply Within: Stories of Career Sabotage, had tried to secure stars such as 30 Rock's Tina Fey and Lena Dunham of Girls fame. “It was much harder than we thought,” Hardy says. “Considering our wishlist began with Oprah and Hilary Clinton, we had to really downscale.”
Still, their roll call of guests is nothing to scoff at. Events in LA, Austin and New York will include US author and journalist Susan Orlean, Melissa Auf der Maur, the ex-bassist in Courtney Love's former band Hole, and former Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth.
In Austin, musician Amanda Palmer (a social media superstar and regular visitor to Australia) will appear with her husband, author Neil Gaiman. Hardy credits the “inestimable pulling power” of Palmer, who has appeared at a Women of Letters event in Melbourne, with helping get the other women on board.
“She really gets the concept – she loves the concept – and has been a really big supporter of ours,” says Hardy. “Once her magical name was attached people started flocking.”
Hardy and McGuire are co-curating eight events in two months, inclusive of the US dates, starting in Adelaide on February 26 before flying to America to host the first of the US events on March 5 in LA.
“We're doing 26 shows all up this year,” says Hardy. “It's just nuts, but it's such an amazing passion project.”