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Writers program pulled over 'child and cultural safety'

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The State Library of Victoria (image by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons)

The State Library of Victoria has suddenly pulled a writing program for teenagers, citing 'child and cultural safety'. Some believe the decision is related to the writers' support for Palestine, reports Rosemary Sorensen.

THE TEEN Writers Bootcamp was scheduled to run from March to May, with writers contracted to deliver the program online and in person.

The free program was advertised on the SLV website and on writing websites. Promotional material in January listed young adult fiction with Alison Evans, poetry with Omar Sakr, journalism and non-fiction with Jinghua Qian, playwriting with Jessica Bellamy, sci-fi and fantasy with Amie Kaufman and comics with Ariel Slamet Ries.

Several information sessions went ahead in February — before the unexplained cancellation of a session in late February and the abrupt postponement of the program.

According to a letter that the SLV sent to the writers this week, the postponement is due to 'a program-wide review of our child and cultural safety protocols and processes'.

The letter stated:

We have a duty of care to ensure the highest levels of child and cultural safety are in place for all participants, artists and facilitators in our programs, and we take this obligation very seriously.
At a time of heightened sensitivities, we believe it is important to conduct this review carefully and thoroughly and take the time needed to make sure that the design and implementation guidelines for programs remain appropriate.

This postponement did not immediately appear on the SLV website. Links from earlier announcements of the program and writers involved return an “access denied” message.

The Teen Writing Bootcamp courses have been run by the SLV for several years and are supported with funding from the Melbourne-based charity Serp Hills Foundation and JTM Foundation.

It appears no other programs are affected by the sudden announcement of the SLV’s cultural safety protocols. Questions sent to the Library about what “heightened sensitivities” the letter is referring to and why this Teen Writing Bootcamp had to be postponed so abruptly, have not yet been answered.

One of the writers involved, Omar Sakr, posted tweets on X about a 'months-long writing gig' which was postponed due to a review of cultural safety processes in this time of “heightened sensitivities”.

The poet, who won a Prime Minister’s Award for his book, The Lost Arabs, added: 

'Pretty sure that’s code for Zionists complained.'

The comment follows revelations that a WhatsApp group had exchanged messages targeting pro-Palestinian writers, with requests for group members to send letters of complaint to funding and management organisations.

The State Library of Victoria is a cultural agency of the Victorian government, overseen by Creative Victoria.

Rosemary Sorensen was a newspaper, books and arts journalist based in Melbourne, then Brisbane, before moving to regional Victoria, where she founded the Bendigo Writers Festival, which she directed for 13 years.

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