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Writers' Festivals and Literary Awards

Writers' festivals are usually staged within broader arts festivals. The Australiana Festival at the University of Melbourne in May 1959, for example, had a literary component, as have ethnic festivals such as the Jewish Festival of the Arts and the Italian Arts Festival. The Next Wave Festival (1985-) includes events 'across performance, visual arts, text and sound'. Melbourne's first separately named literary festival was the Melbourne Writers' Festival, held annually since 1986 as a part of the Spoleto Melbourne Festival of Three Worlds, later named the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts.

The Melbourne Writers' Festival ranges beyond the purely literary to take in historical, biographical and other forms of 'creative' non-fiction writing. It has been held at various venues. In 1986 and 1987 it was based at the Athenaeum Theatre, with some events being held at the Arts Centre and Mietta's Restaurant. Since then it has been based at the Kino Cinema, Collins Place (1988-89) and the C.U.B. Malthouse, Southbank, and the Melbourne Town Hall (1990-). The program includes readings, book launches, film screenings, concerts, panel discussions, and the presentation of the annual Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. The 1986 Festival was very much a showcase for local talent. Since then the emphasis has shifted towards international celebrities. By the late 1990s the Festival had - like any event that achieves sufficient success to allow selective programming - acquired an air of élitism and commercialisation.

The St Kilda Writers Festival (1989-97) included conventional readings, panel discussions and book launches. It also staged such events as Words Go Around ('Look for poems in St Kilda trams'), a 'Poetry Slam' at the Esplanade Hotel, and Writersports - billed as 'a bloodbath of words'. Festival bookstalls favoured self-published works by local writers.

The Victorian Premier's Literary Awards (1985-) comprise five major awards: the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction, the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction, the Sheaffer Pen Prize for Young Adult Fiction, the C.J. Dennis Prize for Poetry and the Louis Esson Prize for Drama. The National Book Council Awards for Australian Literature have been based in Melbourne since 1974, with awards for fiction and non-fiction, later known as the NBC Banjo Awards. The Age Book of the Year includes fiction, nonfiction and poetry categories. The Fellowship of Australian Writers' (FAW) Awards are also based in Melbourne. Prizes administered by municipalities include the Boroondara Literary Awards, the City of Greater Dandenong Writing Awards, Eastern Regional Libraries Short Story Writing Competition, and the Glen Eira Literary Awards.

Ian Morrison