Byron Writers Festival Chair Chris Hanley and Director Edwina Johnson at Elements of Byron.
Byron Writers Festival Chair Chris Hanley and Director Edwina Johnson at Elements of Byron. Christian Morrow

Writers Fest founder closes his chapter

FOUNDER of the Byron Writers Festival, Chris Hanley, has closed the book on his 20 years as chair of the world-renowned literary event.

"Our organisation is in a great position at the moment with a very strong board and a wonderful director in Edwina Johnston and we have been planning for some time that I would hand over to our deputy chair Jennifer St George,” he said. "I have really enjoyed every moment. Being involved in a community organisation around here is a real joy.

"It's been a privilige to be part of an organisation that, just like Splendour and the Blues Festival, hosts a world-class event right here in our own backyard.

Over the weekend more than 200 volunteers will gather at the festival site at Elements of Byron to be welcomed, briefed and t-shirted in preparation for the festival that opens tomorrow night and runs until Sunday August 7.

Mr Hanley said the festival's prosperity was built not just on its literary talent but on, "a dedicated committee, hard-working staff and team of more than 200 incredible festival volunteers who make this event such a popular and loved annual feature of the Byron Bay calendar.”

The festival's volunteers and schools day coordinator, Penny Leonard, says the Byron Writers Festival couldn't run without volunteers.

"My favourite part of the festival is listening to all the positive feedback we receive about the enthusiasm of our volunteers, many of whom have helped out since 1997,” she said. "Visitors tell us they are always welcoming and help to make the festival such a memorable experience.”

Mr Hanley wouldn't be drawn on picking just one highlight of his tenure, saying his greatest pleasure has been in wandering around the festival hearing the laughter of audiences from inside the tents.

"I have interviewed many Booker Prize-winning authors over the years but sometimes it has been most illuminating to speak to the first-time writers who may have have just published their first book of short stories.”

Mr Hanly is also proud the Writers Festival is not dependent on grants for its existence, telling the SMH that, "Our model is completely different from other festivals,” with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts NSW making up 10% of the budget.

"This has made us robust, because if you rely on government funding and it's taken away, you shut down.”


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