Young adult author Kirsty Murray said she was worried about fewer opportunities for writers and readers – especially since the State Library closed the Centre for Youth Literature. She said the schools program is what helps distinguish MWF from places like the Wheeler Centre, which host a year-round calendar of author talks and panels.

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“I know so many kids who’ve come up to me after an author event and said, ‘This changed my life,’” she said. “We need to keep that tradition of enthusing up-and-coming writers.

“If you look at the Wheeler Centre’s programming they’ve only got a handful of youth and children’s events. Parents are so hungry for it.

“It’s not realistic to expect either the MWF or the Wheeler Centre to meet the demand but until we have a centre dedicated to kids’ programming, we need them to do their utmost for young readers and writers. Most schools that can afford author visits are private schools.”

Melbourne Writers Festival associate director, Gene Smith, said the schools program would be engaging and exciting for students and teachers alike.

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“The schools program has been part of the Melbourne Writers Festival for almost 30 years and is fundamental to our mission of supporting the next generation of readers and writers,” he said. “As in previous years, there will be four full days of programming which will cater to primary and secondary school students. We will also be offering a complementary suite of workshops developed in partnership with the Immigration Museum.

“We expect the same number of schools and students to access the program. Additionally – and for the first time – we will be offering a teachers’ professional development day, featuring authors from the schools program sharing insights and strategies to develop students’ literacy and creativity.”

This year’s main festival will also feature days dedicated to family and YA programming.

The changes to the schools program come three months after artistic director Marieke Hardy announced she was leaving two years into a three-year contract in order to pursue writing opportunities in Australia and overseas. Hardy positioned the Melbourne Writers Festival as a “literary arts festival” with a greater emphasis on theatre, music and the visual arts.

The festival’s 2018 makeover resulted in a six-figure leap in ticket sales. However there was also a spike in artist fees and production costs that resulted in a reported loss of $195,271.

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