Students and teachers enjoy the creative magic of LitFest2444

June 20, 2019 9:28 am
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Karen Bale (left) and Suzanne Penson

Students and teachers enjoy creative magic of LitFest2444

The LitFest2444 website describes it as ‘a festival like no other’.

The ‘Lit’ is short for ‘literary’ and ‘2444’ is Port Macquarie’s postcode. However, to experience it firsthand is to quickly realise that LitFest2444 is much more than a literary festival; it’s actually a vibrant celebration of storytelling creativity.

Based in the NSW Mid-North Coast parish, the annual festival aims to inspire the region’s high school students to discover and explore storytelling in all its forms –­ written, sound, vision and performance.

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Sharon Cannon (left) and Ros Kingsford

Co-organisers Karen Bale and Suzanne Penson, teacher-librarians at Port Macquarie’s St Joseph’s Regional and MacKillop College respectively, wrapped up their third LitFest2444 on June 6 to resounding acclaim.

“Every single student has a story to share,” Suzanne said.

“Our aim is to give them the opportunity to use technology to write, record, film, illustrate, or perform it.

“While we’ve tried to offer as many creative interests as possible, the workshops also challenge the students and build up their confidence and resilience. That is not just important for them while they are at school, but in their adult lives, too.”

All local secondary schools invited

LitFest2444 is a labour of literary love for Karen and Suzanne, who spend countless out-of-school hours organising the event. Their efforts were again rewarded this year: most workshops again sold out quickly.

They’re grateful to the Diocese for its support and to their respective schools for allowing them to curate the event, but stressed that LitFest2444 is not exclusive. Rather, it’s open to all senior schools in the region.

“We invite all the local secondary schools and we welcome any student who wants to come with open arms,” said Karen.

Each year a community event is part of the program and 75 adults enjoyed an enthralling evening listening to a panel discussion followed by a Q and A session on ‘Investigative Journalism and the True Crime Podcast’. The panellists – ABC investigative journalist Ruby Jones and True Crime podcast researcher and writer Anna Priestland – were joined by moderator Joan Lancaster, of the Catholic Schools Office and formerly a secondary teacher at MacKillop College.

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LitFest fans: Year 6 students from St Joseph’s Primary, Laurieton, from left, Tash Hodgkinson, Jack Kirk, Lara Novella, Matthew Nicola, and Chelsie Ashcroft.

Beginning the next morning, the 2019 program saw 31 expert tutors from as far as Perth to present 25 hands-on workshops to more than 500 students from Years 7-12, who travelled from secondary schools in the Macleay, Hastings and Camden Haven districts. A contingent of Year 11 students from All Saints College in Maitland again travelled north.

A great networking and PD opportunity

Blessed with glorious sunshine, the students descended on the Newman Senior Technical College campus for an eclectic program jam-packed with workshops ranging from creating fiction, poetry and comics, through to producing films, podcasts and animation.

What continues to surprise and delight the organisers is not just the enthusiasm that they’ve come to expect from students, but the reaction of the visiting teachers and library staff. There’s been a steady increase in their numbers each year, and invariably they become devotees.

Sharon Cannon is the library manager at St Mary’s Primary School in Grafton. A member of the Diocese’s library committee, she values the professional development opportunities that LitFest2444 offers.

“I love the networking almost as much as the exposure to so many talented presenters,” Sharon said.

“Not just authors, but podcasters, animators, filmmakers… each creating narratives in different ways. Being able to experience their creative passion for storytelling is fantastic.”

“Richer experience for our kids…”

Sharon said the library committee is constantly looking for ways to facilitate professional development for the staff of the Diocese’s school libraries.

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St Paul’s College students, from left, Grace Turnbull, Emily Brenton, and Sonisha Nagra with their teacher Melissa Preston at LitFest2444.

“Storytelling today is much more than words on paper,” she said.

“Every year, LitFest opens my eyes to how storytelling is being transformed by technology. Just being able to create richer experiences for kids when they use the library keeps me coming back. Once again this year I’ll be able to take back more fresh ideas to share with the kids and my colleagues.”

LitFest2444 has also had a more tangible impact on St Mary’s. With Sharon’s enthusiastic support, the staff were inspired to stage a writers’ festival for their students last November, incorporating ideas that sprang from last year’s LitFest2444.

Ros Kingsford, the library manager at St Joseph’s in Alstonville, is now a LitFest2444 ‘veteran’, having attended every year. For Ros, it’s become a professional development pilgrimage.

“It’s excellent. There’s nothing like it on the Northern Rivers,” she said.

“The Byron Writers Festival is very adult orientated, whereas LitFest is created for students. There’s always so much I can take back to my school.”

So much for students – and teachers too

Although the festival caters for high school students, Ros believes primary school students can also relate to much of what’s taught in the workshops. Indeed, because of their passion for creative writing, five Year 6 students from St Joseph’s Primary at Laurieton received a special invitation to attend a workshop on writing fantasy fiction and enjoyed it immensely.

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Frame game: Kempsey twins Max (left) and Jett Farrell, 14, learning the skills of stop-motion animation at LitFest2444 in Port Macquarie last week.

“I’m always looking for workshops that teach new ways of storytelling,” Ros said.

“Things like GIF animation, podcasting, and making movies… LitFest is very different to what we do now in the classroom, but it works.

“I’m constantly thinking “Wow, my littlies would love to try that”.”

Both Sharon and Ros urged teachers to spend the day at LitFest2444 next year.

“I would totally recommend teachers come to LitFest – not just for their kids’ sake, but for themselves, too,” Ros said.

Sharon added: “It’s so worthwhile just to experience firsthand new storytelling styles that challenge kids to be brave and creative.”

– Laurie Sullivan.

To see the full 2019 program and read more on LitFest2444 go to https://www.litfest2444.com.au

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Lovin’ LitFest2444: Pictured with author and creative writing workshop presenter Kirsty Eagar (at rear) are Adam Fuller, Angela Teah-Wilson, Sarah Salisbury, Belle Fuller, Tilly Rayment, Bailey Abela, Coen Dennis, Imogen Jones, and Alex Massauoi.