Melbourne publishing powerhouse Louise Adler has been named the new director of Adelaide writers’ week.
And the incoming director of Australia’s largest free annual literary festival has already promised a lively curation of “literary luminaries, next generation writers and hardy perennials” when she takes over in March next year.
Adler will take over at the culmination of the 2022 event in March, which runs each year in tandem with the Adelaide festival of the arts.
Considered one of the world’s pre-eminent and oldest writers’ festivals, Adelaide writers’ week has played host to numerous literary greats in its 50-plus-year history, including Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Vikram Seth, Margaret Drabble and JM Coetzee.
The Adelaide festival chair, Judy Potter, described Adler on Friday as “a titan” of the Australian publishing industry.
“Her experience, networks, and energy across a decades-long career in publishing and literature is unsurpassed,” Potter said in a statement.
“She is impeccably qualified and a true leader in her field who has changed community attitudes, influenced public debate, challenged minds and given voice to critical contemporary issues.”
Adler has stepped down from her role as publisher-at-large at Hachette, a post she has held for the past two years following her controversial resignation after a 15-year tenure as chief executive of Melbourne University Press. Several MUP board members, including the former NSW premier Bob Carr, resigned at the same time, over a decision by the publisher to narrow its scope of publications.
She replaces Jo Dyer, who will present her final Adelaide Writers’ Week in March.
This year has been a tumultuous one for Dyer, who in June was awarded costs, potentially running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, by the federal court, following successful action to prevent top silk Sue Chrysanthou from representing Christian Porter, on the basis she had previously advised Dyer in a different matter.
The former attorney general Porter was suing the ABC for defamation over a story about allegations of a historical rape contained in a dossier sent to the prime minister and other parliamentarian. Porter strenuously denies the allegations, and the matter settled in June after the ABC published a statement indicating it did not intend to suggest Porter was guilty. Dyer was a close friend of the complainant, who took her own life in 2020.
Adler is a former editor of Australian Book Review, former editor of arts and entertainment for the Age, former presenter of ABC Radio National’s Arts Today program, and former president of the Australian Publishers Association.
The Melbourne-born bibliophile has sat on many other boards, including the Monash University council, Melbourne international arts festival and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Adler has been a frequent presence at many previous Adelaide writers’ weeks, having sat on multiple panels and conducted author interviews over the years.
She told Guardian Australia she clearly remembers her first ever festival experience in 1972 – when the star attractions were Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the literary duo who had fought a highly publicised California obscenity trial over Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl 15 years earlier.
“I had a mother who thought a daughter’s education was the most sacred thing in life, so I could not believe she took me out of school in March to go to a festival,” she recalled.
“There were Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti in front of me in the Adelaide town hall, and Ginsberg read Howl … it was so memorable, I was in awe.”
At the same festival the self-confessed “baby aggressive feminist” 16-year-old was reduced to a gushing teenager after finding herself standing next to Mikis Theodorakis in a hotel lift.
It was the first of many memorable Adelaide writers’ festivals for Adler. Standout moments from other years include queueing behind Alice Walker.
“Wow, great shoes,” the Pulitzer prize-winning The Color Purple writer exclaimed, ogling the Australian’s mustard and black polka-dotted flats (“no I do not have a shoe fetish”).
Adler’s diligent writers festival attendance over the years has revealed to her many hidden literary gems and introduced her to some great writers she was previously unaware of, the most memorable being Pulitzer prize-winning Canadian author Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries) at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.
“I will always remember that pleasure of discovering a writer I didn’t know at writers’ week, and I think that’s one of the things it’s there for,” she said.
“Yes, you should meet your literary idols … but you should also be able to meet new writers that you’ve never encountered, who intrigue you so much you just have to dash straight to the festival bookshop and buy all their books.”
Adler said she would begin planning the 2023 festival early next year, on the assumption the restrictions and uncertainties of Covid-19 would no longer be with us.
“I’m counting on the lockdowns being over and the world being open,” she said. “And I think by 2023 we’ll be OK. I’m an optimist. You can’t be a book person without being an optimist.”