William Saroyan – the Pulitzer Prize winning author – wrote these words. “I am interested in madness. I believe it is the biggest thing in the human race, and the most constant. How do you take away from a man his madness without also taking his identity?” Amongst many other brilliant works he wrote one called “Papa You’re Crazy” and a short story collection entitled “Madness in the Family.” Were he still alive, he would probably have been invited to the Madness, Poetry and Memoir session held late on the Saturday afternoon at the 2015 Williamstown Literary Festival. And had he been there, he would have found himself in most excellent company.
Expertly chaired by Jen Watkins, the panel consisted of Dr Kate Richards, Sandy Jeffs and Graeme Sparkes, all three of whom have lived with and written about mental illness. Kate, Sandy and Graeme shared their words and their stories. Graeme spoke with both love and frustration of a childhood spent accommodating a mentally ill parent and read from his book “You Never Met My Father”. Kate and Sandy also shared their stories. Kate broke our hearts with the beautifully written introduction to her book, “Madness: A Memoir” and Sandy made us laugh and cry with her poem “Alice in Laurendel Land”, taken from her latest collection – “The Mad Poet’s Tea Party.”
All three stories were filled with struggle and resilience, with fear and courage, with ignorance and knowledge, with pathos and humour. Their stories were a testament to the human spirit. Their stories were worth hearing. This was a conversation worth having.
Madness, Poetry and Memoir was proudly supported by Hobsons Bay City Council as part of Community Health and Wellbeing.