What: We Need To Talk About America, at Brisbane Writers Festival
Where: State Library of Queensland
When: 7 September 2012
Reviewed by: Lee Mathers, Brisbane Ambassador

You would generally expect sessions at the Brisbane Writers Festival to be genteel affairs, talking about books and writing and the glory of the written word. You don’t often expect an audience to be so exceptionally vocal. But this is America we’re talking about, so one should have been prepared.

So it came to pass at one of the early sessions of BWF 2012 with authors David Vann, John de Graaf and Eowyn Ivey, all Americans but all from very diverse backgrounds, sitting on a panel, talking about….well…America.

The topics of discussion varied from the melting pot that was the early 1900s United States, where there was an underlying sense of people coming together (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” etc) and how great that used to be compared to the current US decline. And all three authors were convinced that the US was on a downward slope.

De Graaf, (of Affluenza fame and previously interviewed by The Fetch), was the only non-fiction writer on the panel and was able to reel off incredible facts about the poor state of the US generally. But both Vann (bestselling author, most recently of Last Day On Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter) and Ivey (The Snow Child) were adamant that the US had had an impact on the world and most of it was bad.

Vann spoke in rather chilling detail about the proliferation of guns in the US. Thirty-three thousand suicides each year caused by firearms; ten thousand other deaths attributable to guns and neither political party is willing to deal or able to deal with the issue.

Politics and the upcoming Presidential Election received a good deal of attention, as well as where each author would live if they could live anywhere (only De Graaf nominated that he’d stay in the US). But it was when the floor was opened to questions that things really became fiery. Who would have thought that the audience would turn?

By the end of the session, it seemed that there were more “pro Americans” in the crowd than on the panel. One thing is for sure: opinion on America runs deep. And there are plenty of people that are quite happy to keep talking about it!