Lex Hirst: Co-Director of National Young Writers' Festival

21 August 2014

Lex Hirst
"It is a hard industry to get into, but having the sort of skills that get you there, an opportunity to intern, and relevant contacts, make it a really worthwhile course," said Lex Hirst.

For Master of Publishing graduate Lex Hirst, a well-placed internship and a couple of stints volunteering in her passion industry have led to both a career in editing at Random House and to being selected as a Co-Director of National Young Writers' Festival.

Hirst openly gushes at her appointment as Co-Director: "It's really opened up the writing community for me. It's a whole different scene. There are so many people doing interesting things within the literary world, whether it's in publishing, literary magazines, student magazines - there is so much happening," she said.

"National Young Writers' Festival has really allowed me to explore all of that."

The Festival, which runs in Newcastle from 2-5 October, is one of Australia's oldest literary festivals, and is held as part of the This Is Not Art festival alongside the Crack Theatre Festival, Electrofringe and Critical Animals, or what Lex describes as a "huge creative explosion in Newcastle".

"I went along last year and was blown away by the community that gathers there," said Hirst. "There are people from every state around Australia - all types of writing - playwriting, memoirs, comics, comedians, pretty much anything you can think of.

"It's a space where there is a lot of informal mentoring that goes on as well. It's really supportive, and going along without really knowing anyone I came away with a whole bunch of contacts and learnt about a whole lot of different projects. That's what we are really aiming to continue this year."

From visiting one year to helping steer the festival the next would seem like a large leap, but Hirst sees it as happening more organically than that: "every new experience is just tied on to the thing I did before it," she said. So where did the journey begin?

After completing her undergraduate degree in languages (Spanish and French) and her honours in Latin American Studies, Lex Hirst was unsure about which direction she wanted to go, so took some time out to think about what it was about languages that she loved so much in order to try prompt her next direction.

"I realised it was the communicative element. I'd always loved reading; I'd always loved books, so why was I looking so much further afield than my own language?" mused Hirst.

She said that from this line of thought it "just became clear" that she should be moving towards book publishing. "It also became clear that I knew nothing about publishing," she said.

"I looked up the best courses around and for somebody going in with not much experience who wanted something really professional that would give me some practical experience, Publishing at Sydney seemed like the best one. So I applied."

It was through her Master of Publishing course that she landed her "foot in the door" at Random House, by being placed in an editorial internship.

"It is a hard industry to get into, but having the sort of skills that get you there, an opportunity to intern, and relevant contacts, make it a really worthwhile course," said Lex.

"And it's nice to have academics that are actually working in books and have practical experience as well… from the first week they had you in groups showing you mark up symbols; showing you the sort of things that I actually still use in my day job and are just invaluable."

After being offered a part-time position at Random House and working her way through the ranks to a position as Editor in charge of a variety of digital and print titles, Lex kept taking on opportunities that aligned with her passion for books. These included a spot doing literary reviews on 2SER radio, and alsocurating a series of author events at Sydney Story Factory in Redfern.

"My role at Sydney Story Factory is through Random House who are a sponsor. I'm on the corporate social responsibility team at Random House. I got involved with them by volunteering."

Lex is a big fan of volunteering to gain experience, and pointed out that National Young Writers' Festival has a number of ways people can get involved, from volunteer opportunities to wild card entries, where writers can jump up on the spot to read at certain events.

"There is also a huge informal networking session that goes on so even outside of the general program of the festival you can go up there and meet people and possibly start a whole new creative project."

A Sydney launch for the festival is on Tuesday 26 August at Alaska Projects in Elizabeth Bay. In addition to launching the program and announcing the artists that will speak at the festival, the event also features an in-conversation talk with Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo, who was nominated for the Man Booker Prize last year for her book We Need New Names.

Media enquiries: Kate Mayor, 0434 561 056, 02 9351 2208,

Follow the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on Facebook here