Michaela McGuire: no unfinished business

April 29, 2016

We're often at home, in our pyjamas, while incredible women like Kathleen Turner are on our New York stage

Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire

Dear myself, let’s talk about unfinished business… yes, you know the things you should have said, the things you didn’t say and that which remains to be done …

The Women of Letters recently returned to Brisbane for their eighth appearance and behind the scenes are founders, Brisbane’s Michaela McGuire (pictured right) and Marieke Hardy. The theme for their recent visit was A letter to my unfinished business and the reading featured an array of local talent.

What is Women of Letters?

For those not in the know, here’s what you need to know—Women of Letters was founded by Michaela and Marieke who gathered women to write a letter on a set theme and share it with the audience.

The talented two toured the concept around Australia for over five years before putting a foot on US soil where they attracted some impressive names in show business to participate, including Martha Wainwright, Edie Falco and Molly Ringwald.

“We planned for months in advance before our first foray internationally … it was as scary as hell,” Michaela says. “We decided to do a show in New York, Los Angeles and South by Southwest (a festival in Texas) – just the three shows.”

Michaela says meeting a promoter and a producer inspired them to do more shows.

“Trish Nelson—a wonderful producer—got the show and understood why it was so important. So, we went back the next year and added Chicago and San Francisco. We did an amazing show to 400 people at The Bell House which was like the boondocks in Brooklyn. It was snowing and people were lined up to get tickets.

“Everywhere we went invited us back but rather than stretching ourselves incredibly thin, we decided to focus on one international sister city — that was New York,” she says.

As glamorous as that sounds Michaela says that they do not get too many of the shows due to budget constraints. “We’re often at home, in our pyjamas, while incredible women like Kathleen Turner and Siri Hustvedt are on our New York stage. But we’re doing all the work and proceeds still go to charity.”

How Michaela and Marieke met

It’s been an interesting journey for author/journalist Michaela and author/radio presenter Marieke.

“We had friends in common and were aware of each other,” Michaela says, “but we officially met on Triple J brekky radio in late 2009 when I was promoting my book and Marieke was a ‘breakfaster’. We had on an on air chat and then followed up later at the Writers’ Festival. We just connected and had lots in common right off the back.”

What to expect at a Women of Letters event

“Expect a unique live experience,” Michaela says. “A literary gathering but a casual afternoon where you can have a wine during the show.

“We read the letters in the first half, then there’s an intermission where we have postcards and aerograms scattered around the room and we invite the audience to write a letter of their own,” she says. “There is a postbox and stamps to send off it off.”

The contributors and topics are chosen from a never-ending list that Michaela and Marieke add to as they encounter interesting women.

“We only get to Brisbane once a year and I check in with people who couldn’t do earlier shows,” Michaela says. “I’ve been annoying Ellen Van Neerven for years and she was available this year! Or one of us might read an interview or see something on TV and keep a name.”

This year’s ladies included: singer-songwriter Airling (aka Hannah Shepherd); writer, founding editor of Hot Chicks with Big Brains and inaugural Kat Muscat Fellow Bri Lee Raaf; Reservist Group Captain and 2016 Australian of the Year finalist Catherine McGregor; author of Heat and Light and Comfort Food Ellen Van Neerven; fantasy author Isobelle Carmody; director of the Rock and Roll Writers Festival and former artist manager Leanne De Souza; and, theatre maker, therapist, researcher, theatre director and facilitator Margi Brown Ash.

Deciding on a topic

“We have a long list of those as well,” Michaela says. “Things that prompt people to talk about a change, decision or momentous event in their lives always yields some powerful letters.

“It is a balancing act in that it has to specific enough to give seven people a prompt but broad enough to not end up with seven letters that say the same thing.”

 And Michaela’s unfinished business?

So what’s Michaela’s unfinished business? “Mm,” she ponders, “clearing the inbox; a deadline to finalise a Writers’ Festival I’m putting together in Melbourne in the next two weeks; I’m about to move house; I hope to write more books; and, I’d still like to wind up on a small island in Greece, drinking wine from midday and read books.”

All funds raised at the Women of Letters performances go towards Victorian animal rescue shelter, Edgar’s Mission

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Helen Goltz

After studying English Literature and Communications at universities in Queensland, Helen Goltz has worked as a journalist, producer and marketer in print, TV, radio and public relations. She was born in Toowoomba and has made her home in Brisbane. Helen is the author of eight books and is published by Clan Destine Press and Atlas Productions. She is the original founder of She Brisbane.