Women of Letters recap

I tried to treasure this experience more than usual today because I am entering a stage of the year where I may not be able to keep Sundays free anymore. Missing Women of Letters is not fun, but I’m sure I have other anthologies to look forward to, and perhaps more writers will post their letters a few weeks or months down the track on their personal websites (like Bindi Cole and Jess McGuire etc). Anyway, it was just Sean and I today, and we found a far more efficient route to the Regal Ballroom than up Punt Road, so hopefully will use that again! Marieke Hardy looked like Arwen, and Michaela McGuire was MCing once more. Our theme today: a letter to someone I once made cry.

First up was comedian Hannah Gadsby. She wrote to her mother about the two occasions she can recall making her cry, pointing out that her mother too, had made Hannah herself cry more than once. Her letter was hilarious – dry and witty, including an imitation of her mother’s voice and discussion of being high on furniture polish. Despite being “sensitive to sound, and hungry” as she was reading her letter, she still managed to finish it on-the-fly, having run out of time to complete the letter before the start of the salon today. Her letter was funny, yes, but also incredibly touching, and a lovely portrait of her relationship with her mum.

Next was writer Josephine Rowe. The lyrical nature of her prose shone through beautifully, writing to a traveling friend (as in, a friend she once went traveling with) who she has lost contact with. Her letter navigated the muddy waters of relationships, things that can go misunderstood and unsaid, and detailed the confusion people can feel with someone even when they feel closer than ever. Very poignant and all read out with a very sore throat, so we were very lucky she was able to attend at all!

Senator Christine Milne was next, writing to the students she taught at Devonport High School during the late 70’s and early 80’s before embarking on a political career. She made them (and herself) cry, by playing them the LP of “The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk” with music by Ed Welch and the voice of Spike Milligan. Her passion for this story was evident and she expressed her interest to know how the students would react to it today when they listened to it as adults. I’ve never read/listened to this before, so I’ll have to add it to my list…

Musician Grace Knight’s letter had the entire room in tears. She wrote to a childhood friend of hers, upon whom she had unloaded terrible secrets. For many years this friend was the only person who knew of the dreadful abuse Grace had suffered, and Grace’s letter explored her fear of telling people about it and the effects on her later life, when she punished herself relentlessly for something that wasn’t her fault. Then she spoke about forgiveness, and the completely unexpected healing that it brought. This part was the most tender and the most affecting, though her entire letter was beautiful and brave. I think out of all the WoL events I have attended, Grace’s letter has elicited the strongest emotional response in me yet. Michaela McGuire thanked her for her bravery also, which made us all cry some more.

Finally (and with a perfect letter to finish on), it was journalist Ramona Koval, writing to her mum. Her letter was funny and sweet and touching, but had the undercurrent of seriousness that tends to pervade letters at these salons. Her mother had spoken to Ramona about having to hide that she was Jewish, in order to keep safe during the Second World War. Baby Ramona than assumed she would need to do the same thing, and subsequently spent several months doing Christian Religious Education at school while her Jewish classmates went off to be taught by a rabbi elsewhere. Ramona gave some gorgeous anecdotes about how she liked the Bible stories and was chosen to be Mary in the nativity play, all before she was found out, but (and maybe it was just because I was still emotionally broken from Grace  Knight’s letter), I felt quite sad during the whole letter, thinking of the fears of children during the Holocaust continuing through the generations.

We had to leave early today for other commitments, so we didn’t stay for questions, but if this does turn out to be my last Women of Letters event for a while, I feel pretty lucky that it was this one.

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