A young writer gets lucky: turning opportunities into careers

Bri Lee  

Last night I went on Radio National to talk about an essay I have out in the latest edition of Griffith Review. Even though it was my third time in the Brisbane ABC building, I still got nervous sweats. The essay is about sexism in the justice system and the interview will be listened to by thousands of people across Australia. I’m proud of it and it’s important.

I’ll be speaking on a panel about the essay at my favourite local bookstore alongside a writer hero of mine this week and I’ve gone and read all their recent work so that I don’t bumble when I to talk to them.

My first book will be out next year and it’s about this really important social issue as well, and I can barely bring myself to think about it; I’m only 25. I’ve been writing full-time for just over a year now and “pleasantly surprised” is a gross understatement of my emotional state if I spend too long thinking about all of the above. I’m doing what I love and I genuinely believe I might be making a bit of a difference.

But why am I gloating this way? What kind of bighead lists their achievements like this? Who do I think I am?

An act of generosity

I know who I am: a young woman whose entire career trajectory can be traced back to a single, pivotal moment of generosity. Everything I’ve achieved in my writing career so far can be tracked in a spectacularly linear fashion back to the day I received the inaugural Kat Muscat Fellowship. I found out about it one month before I left my “normal” law job to “follow my dreams”. It was $3,000 worth of professional development, and I’ve since turned that small sum into a regular freelance income and a book deal.

It’s been over a year since that day and I’m now living from my writing. I get invited to give speeches. I run a magazine that I know, for a fact, has helped change people’s minds and perspectives on a whole bunch of different feminist issues.

To a hungry young creative (me) $3,000 and an accolade was enough to allow me to turn up to family gatherings with my head held high. Having just quit a stable and responsible career track, getting an agent was critical to keeping crippling self-doubt at bay. Being invited to give a workshop at the Emerging Writers’ Festival last year told me I wasn’t just a starry-eyed fool.

In my short life I’ve spent a few years on the bottom rungs of a handful of different industries. I was a waitress for about five years and a university student (deep in academia) for six. I worked in the legal industry in various roles for four years, and I’ve interned at a few fashion places on and off for a while. I’m finally, firmly, in the writing world and can say with absolute conviction that it’s the most supportive and encouraging of all.

Be a supporter, be a Pen Pal

I’ll be writing for the rest of my life, I can feel it in my bones, and I’ll never forget the opportunities I was afforded during my first few baby steps into this world. Every time funding to arts organisations gets cut I think about where I’d be without the resources I’ve received so far. Often I wonder whether I deserve any of what I currently have when so many other incredible emerging creatives are crowded around the same tiny resource bowls.

The Pen Pals program asks you to make a donation to a hungry young creative, and speaking as one of those, I can tell you for sure that your generosity will provide a critical opportunity for someone at the beginning of their career. The Emerging Writers’ Festival is the place where we gather every year to celebrate the highs and commiserate the inevitable lows. An appearance at the festival can make a mammoth difference to the self-esteem and public profile of an up-and-coming writer.

Your donation could be the new beginning of someone’s entire professional trajectory. We take these opportunities and turn them into careers. Many of us try to make a difference along the way.

Become a Pen Pal

EWF gives many writers their first chance to appear at a literary festival. The Pen Pals program directly supports writers to participate as artists in the festival. Your donation will sponsor the appearance of a writer, a whole panel or even an entire event.

$100 funds an emerging writer to appear in the Festival
$150 funds an emerging writer to chair a panel in the National Writers’ Conference
$200 funds a workshop in one of our Masterclasses
$400 funds a whole panel at the National Writers’ Conference
$500 funds artist fees for one of our Late Night Lit performance events

The very real difference your gift makes to a developing artist will be acknowledged on our website. As a Pen Pal you will also receive an invitation to the 2017 invite-only Artists’ Party, getting the chance to mingle with tomorrow’s literary superstars.