Interview with Steven Finch from the Literary Youth Festival

Literary Youth Festival is the first youth-led festival of literature in Western Australia, run by young people in the Literary Youth Festival Planning Subcommittee of National Youth Week WA. After wrapping up a great series of events and workshops held here at Centre for Stories, we chatted to Steven Finch, Propel liaison for the festival. Here's what he had to say:

Tell us a bit about the festival. The KickstART festival is run by Propel Youth Arts WA with the support of the Department of Local Government and Communities. It’s the official metropolitan celebration of National Youth Week WA. National Youth Week celebrations were federally funded, but now as there is not even a Youth Minister in federal parliament, it’s unlikely that these programs will continue. Propel has managed to secure an ongoing tender with the DLGC, and so KickstART will probably be on for at least another two years in its current format. To organize the KickstART festival, we do an open callout for youth to join a National Youth Week Planning Committee. There were six or so members of that committee that were also involved in Spoken Word Perth and so there was this real drive to have a literary component of the KickstART festival. So this year we trialed a mini festival within the KickstART festival and that was the Literary Youth Festival: the first youth-led literary festival in the Perth metro area.

What kind of events did the festival include? There was a real focus on diverse identities. There were events that were focused on femme identities, queer identity, polylingual poets and more. As well as that, the youth really wanted there to be a good representation of many different media. So there was podcasting, zine-making, and things like that. It was a real learning experience for all of us as well. As the Propel liaison, I was working with a group of young people who had never organised a festival before, and who were quite excited to trial some pretty wild ideas. It was a relatively safe environment for them to do so because LYF was being partially funded through Propel Youth Arts WA’s KickstART program.

So why did you guys think it was important to have the literary side to the festival? I think that for us – speaking as a representative of Propel Youth Arts WA – it was about what we wanted to see and what we thought wasn’t represented in the Perth arts scene. In my personal experience, as someone who has been involved in the local literary scene since 2009, I’ve always wanted there to be a stronger presence of literature in the metropolitan area, and one that also focuses on youth because well. It’s well-known that most of the people that are members of the writing organisations around Perth are not youth. They are middle-aged and over, and while they’re wonderful people, it’s hard when you’re a young writer to feel like there’s a place for you here.

What were you guys doing at Centre for Stories? At Centre for Stories we set up a LYF Hub. This was a place where people could rest between festival events, and also a place that we wanted to activate as a social space. There are a few poetry readings, poetry nights, and things like that in Perth, but the really exciting parts of these nights is sometimes the spaces in between performances, where you have time to talk to other people. I think that it’s important to create a space for conversation, not just presentation of work, and that’s something Centre for Stories does really well. In a writing community, you’re not just a worker, you’re creating together. It’s that depth of real human contact that gets people into writing. It’s the stories around writing that bring magic to the experience.

What can we expect next year? Better! Longer lead-up time, a more well-formed committee and hopefully support from another government agency. And because we can start planning for the next festival now, it’s going to be more sustained and organic and have connections with existing literary communities. The future is looking pretty bright, really.