Dr. Sarah Nicholson Presents: The Heroines Festival

by Yvette Gilfillan


Dr. Sarah Nicholson has done it all: she’s an academic who lectures in creative arts, gender and religious studies; an editor of Integral Voices on Sex, Gender and Sexuality (2014); a past director of the National Young Writers’ Festival; and a board member of our very own South Coast Writers Centre. But you might not know Sarah’s secret: for months now, she’s been working on launching the Heroines Festival, which “celebrates the talents of women writers who reclaim, restore, and reimagine women’s stories”.

With the extraordinary efforts of Sarah’s team at Neo Perennial Press, her Program Manager Caitlin White, and the collaborative assistance of the South Coast Writers Centre, Wollongong Writers Festival, Culture Bank Wollongong and the Stella Prize, Sarah has made her artistic dream into a reality.

The secret is out. This September, a spotlight will shine on her behind-the-scenes work, as the Heroines Festival is brought to Wollongong for the very first time.

The festival’s theme is “finding our past and imagining our future”, interacting in creative ways with mythology, fairytales, speculative fiction and historical storytelling. These fascinating genres will be focalised through a female literary lens, giving power back to women writers both past and present. With a stellar line-up of literary discussions, poetry slams, short film screenings, workshops and an anthology launch, this festival is sure to be incredible.

There’s an all-female cast of panellists and presenters, including Catherine McKinnon, author of Storyland—which was recently shortlisted for the Miles Franklin—and Kate Forsyth, who will also be headlining the festival. Kate is the author of popular fantasy and fairytale novels such as Vasilisa the Wise and Beauty in Thorns.

There will be three parts to this girl-power literary extravaganza, so come and witness the talent of these badass leading ladies—and be treated to the enthusiasm and creativity of our emerging young writers.


Heroines Anthology Launch

Wednesday 5th of September at 6.30 pm, Philanthropy Tribe Café

This week’s Word Salad event for the South Coast Writers Centre will have a twist—twisted fairytales, that is. The festival will kick off with the launch of Heroines, an anthology comprised of stories which reinvent magical and mythical female protagonists.

The night will be emceed by Linda Godfrey—who is the program manager for the Wollongong Writers Festival—and Sarah herself, the Heroine festival’s creative director.

Get your tickets for the launch here!


Heroines Festival Day

Saturday 8th of September from 12-5 pm, Thirroul District Community Centre

Visit Thirroul for the day of the festival, where acclaimed novelists Catherine McKinnon, Kate Forsyth, Anna Westbrook and Pamela Hart will speak to the existing demand to create stories written for and about strong women—and to honour those voices that were previously silenced.

Speculative fiction authors Claire Corbett and Margaret Morgan will discuss the literature surrounding dystopian and utopian futures for women, and storytellers of the screen Zanny Begg, Jasmin Tarasin and Heidi Lee Douglas will talk about how evocative film techniques can powerfully portray rebellious female characters.

An exciting poetry slam will close out the day, featuring works from the Heroines anthology and readings from the Young Women Writers Program.

For the full program details click here, and get your tickets here.


Young Women Writers’ Workshop

Wednesday 22nd and 29th of August, and Wednesday 5th of September, Wollongong Youth Service

Young female writers will get the chance to hone their skills in writing and performance, in a series of workshops run in association with Sarah, Helena Fox and Gabe Journey Jones from the South Coast Writers Centre. Read the full program here.

Tickets are $30—but the fun, engaging workshops for these aspiring writers is priceless. But hey, if the real-world hits, full scholarship places are also available. Email youthservices@wollongong.nsw.gov.au for more information.


And if that’s not enough, I’ve got a sneak-peek interview with Creative Director Dr. Sarah Nicholson and Program Manager Caitlin White. Hold onto your glass slippers ladies, because this will have you dancing in excitement:

Sarah, what inspired you to launch an event like the Heroines Festival in Wollongong, and what do you hope every attendee takes away from the experience?

The festival is very much a labour of love for me, and has pretty deep roots in work I’ve been doing for more than a decade in one way or another. My PhD was a study of the heroine’s journey in literature, and I found that women, even when they were able to struggle against the conditions of womanhood that constrained them from fully participating in culture making, were often not recorded by history. So, I became interested in how we re-story women’s history, and what we do where there are gaps in the record, stories or events that are partially or completely lost. And I’ve become particularly interested in how women writers of historical fiction deal with this.

The other issue I found in studying women’s history was that women in the past (when they were written about) were primarily written about by men, not by other women—so there was often a bias. I became interested in how different women’s stories would be, and our idea of what or who women are, if they are now written in women’s voices. So, the festival looks back at how we honour and re-story women’s historical creativity, but it also looks forward and asks how we imagine women in the future.

I hope that festival attendees will feel nurtured and inspired by hearing women’s stories and journeys, and will continue to encourage and support women authors who are writing them.

Sarah Nicholson - Creative Director of the Heroines Festival


Caitlin, you went from intern to program manager for the festival, in true lady-boss fashion! How has your time been, and what was your favourite part about assisting in the production of this literary festival?

That’s right, I started out as an intern when Heroines was in its initial stages. I’ve worked with the Wollongong Writers Festival before Heroines but in a less hands-on role. When I had the chance to join the project I really jumped for it—it seemed made for me in a lot of ways.

For me the standout was editing the Heroines Anthology. We had such an amazing response to the call out and ended up with some really great works. I am excited to meet some of the contributors at the launch. It was the work I did on the anthology that lead to me starting an online journal—Baby Teeth Journal—which will be collaborating with Heroines to publish works from our young writers program.

It’s been amazing to be able to work on the Heroines Festival—it’s developed into something pretty special, which I’m sure will benefit creative women and non-binary folks.

Caitlin White - Program Manager for the Heroines Festival


For more information, please go to the official website. All images sourced from Neo Perennial Press, with the permission of Dr. Sarah Nicholson.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the festival—and to our readers, we hope to see you all there!



Written by SCWC

Posted on August 09, 2018