Staff Spotlight: Millie Baylis

Millie Baylis is a writer and arts worker, living on Wurundjeri land. She writes essays, memoir and commentary, with recent work in Kill Your Darlings, Overland and The Victorian Writer. In 2019 she was a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk fellow and the managing editor of Visible Ink, and in 2020 she is a Moreland Writer in Residence and the Program Coordinator for the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

What drew you to working at EWF?

As an emerging writer myself, I’ve loved attending EWF for years. I think Amazing Babes was the first festival event I ever went to, and I remember being so moved by the incredible work shared by so many amazing women that night. I’ve always loved the welcoming, enthusiastic culture of the festival, as well as the stimulating discussions on the craft of writing and its place in this world.

I’ve worked various jobs in the arts (including at the Wheeler Centre), ushering and getting to listen in on heaps of amazing literary events. Last year, I had a ball working front-of-house for EWF – except for when, while on stage at the National Writers’ Conference trying to get Maria Tumarkin’s mic working, the fly on my pants broke open in front of everyone… but that’s what emerging is all about, right?

It’s extremely exciting to have the chance to contribute to a festival I care about so much now as the Program Coordinator.

Why is celebrating emerging voices in writing important to you?

 There are so many answers to this question! For emerging writers, I think it can be really validating to be invited to share your work and/or ideas in public. That recognition and legitimation can give one the confidence to carry on – something that can be really hard when you’re just starting out. I also believe that writing is a craft that needs practice, and EWF offers a very tangible place for writers to do that – often in front of their first audience too.

There’s so much incredible work being made beyond the more established literary outlets that deserve to be seen and read and listened to. I think it’s so important to help platform this broad range of work, as well as helping writers form connections with each other, from across the continent (and from Aotearoa too.) There’s a shitload of talent to celebrate!

What are you working on outside of EWF?

 I’m working on my own essays – largely to do with mental and physical chronic illness, drawing on memory as well as literature and research to consider the body, trauma, violence, small joys and ideas of ‘healing’.

And I’ve recently joined the team that makes Chronically Chilled, a podcast/radio show about chronic illness and disability, on 3CR.

Is there a book that you feel is the equivalent of a warm hug to you?

To be honest, I’m not often drawn to books of a feelgood nature – but perhaps I should be!

Shadowboxing, the collection of semi-autobiographical linked short stories by Tony Birch, is maybe my favourite book. Birch is so generous and skilled at portraying small, specific moments of his characters’ humanity with such tenderness – I find something profoundly reassuring and hopeful in them.

More recently, Laura McPhee-Browne’s debut novel Cherry Beach made me sob, but it also definitely held me and stroked my hair sweetly after.

If you were an under the sea creature, which would you be?

I want to say a dolphin (from a position of aspiration, rather than recognition). Unlike humans, dolphins have to breathe consciously – it’s not a reflex. There is something staggeringly beautiful about this small but essential detail; that with each breath, they choose to live.

They’re also one of the few animals that are known to have sex for pleasure (and maybe, really, that must influence the breathing thing.) 

Our program launch is all about digital nostalgia – have you got a favourite nostalgic technology throwback?

 Like so many millennials, I spent my pre-teen years – every day at the school library, and every night at home on the family computer via the dial-up modem – talking to other young emos on MSN, and then MySpace. On weekends, I’d take a bus and then a long train to the city to meet internet emos IRL on the Flinders Street Station steps. We’d share headphones to listen to songs on our mp3 players, then return home to change our MSN names to whatever lyrics most matched our mood. (*~* </3 And I’m nothing more than a line in your book </3 *~* – Appears Offline.) I miss the tackiness and earnestness of our curated Myspace profiles back then – one’s choice of Myspace layout and graphics and profile song and ‘who I’d like to meet’ section was an expressive art form! – compared to the sameness of profiles online these days. (Cher Tan, genius emerging writer, wrote a brilliant piece about this btw.)

What are you most excited about for EWF20?

I’m thrilled by how accessible the festival will be online – and how that will mean more people can take part in our huge program of performances, panels, workshops and projects. I’m looking forward to hearing the hard conversations people will have about writing during this intensely unsettling time, to have my thinking challenged, and to experience all kinds of storytelling.

Our program’s out in just a week, and I’m busting to spill its secrets but I won’t, lol. Be sure to check it out when it goes live on June 2 – and I hope to see you during the festival online!

Emerging Writers’ Festival 2020 runs from 16-23 June online.