First light in Parkes

Parkes Library Coffee Cups

I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. […] And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

– Toni Morrison, interviewed in the Paris Review

I’m writing this at 5.30 on Monday morning in Parkes, New South Wales. The sky’s just going from bruise to blush, and five hours from now we’ll be holding our first team meeting after months of preparation for “Readtember”, a family festival of literature, literacy, and play.

It’s been a huge honour for me to join forces with the team at Parkes. They’re brave and creative souls who give the lie to tired assumptions that nothing exciting happens beyond the city limits of Sydney or Melbourne. Our track record in devising and delivering mad, wonderful, compelling play and learning events for all ages is getting so long that it makes me laugh.

Yesterday I had my first takeout coffee in one of the library coffee cups which are used by every café in town. I suggested the idea based on a project that had run in Melbourne a while ago, but it only became real to me when I finally drank from one. I hadn’t even thought about the fact I’d be getting one when I placed my order; I just asked for a latte and suddenly I was holding a piece of local literature in my hand.

The texts chosen for the project remind readers that Parkes is a town of stargazers and poets, as well as farmers and miners. With both feet planted in red rural dirt, they still keep one eye on the cosmos. The coffee cup stories conjure early morning routines, the special camaraderie of the outback, and a world where we “listen to the gossip of the galaxies / trying to catch the whispers of how it all began.”

This year we’re challenging ourselves to go further than ever before. Parkes is the first Australian community to host an outpost of the global Fun Palaces movement; our famous interactive storytelling events are going to explore the dastardly world of supervillainy via a collaboration with British author Louie Stowell; and after challenging the biggest Australian arts organisations to push their own boundaries in February, we’ll be reaching out to new communities and new audiences on our own patch.

We’re proud when colleagues and allies, at home and overseas, share the fabulous ideas that we’ve tested out here in rural Aussie; most recently, New Zealand’s capital delivered a swathe of play-based sessions developed from programming devised in Parkes.

But as the sun rises on a new day, here in Parkes we’re sipping our coffee and looking forward to uncharted territory.

For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives.

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