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25 Years of WV: interview with Chris McKenzie

When Chris McKenzie took on the role of Director of Writers Victoria (then called the Victorian Writers’ Centre), the organisation was based in the Broom Factory in George Street, Fitzroy.

Chris arrived in the mid-90s during the first push by state funding agencies to increase the professionalism of member organisations. ‘Arts management’ was becoming a growth industry and during this time the VWC grew into a larger and more formal entity – including the arrival of new technologies.

“In 1996, we would all stand around the one computer that had the internet,” she recalls, “or have to get in early to check our emails on Gordon’s computer before he got to work.” Before her nephew networked their computers together, staff members would usually check their email twice a week, and the early-morning office was filled with the chirruping sound of the dial-up modem.

Chris was there for VWC’s 10th anniversary to celebrate how the Centre had become “one of the State’s leading literary providers” over its first decade. And she oversaw the organisation’s move to its temporary home at the Meat Market Arts Centre in North Melbourne in 2001.

“People love the Writers Centre because they’ve walked through the door at some stage of their writing lives and then have remained involved over the years as tutors, participants, staff and committee members, or volunteers.”

With her own regional background, Chris is proud that VWC was one of the first organisations to take writers into regional communities and remembers the bi-lingual ‘Eat Tongue’ publication as her favourite project during that time. “This book broke new ground as we sought out writers who were writing in their first language and then partnered them with translators,” she remembers. “The resulting translations and the original works were then published. Anna Lopata played a key role in this project.”

In celebration of our 25th anniversary, Chris shared her ongoing love for the organisation:

“After all these years I am still pleased when I walk down the track to my letterbox early in the month and see that the writers centre newsletter has arrived. It is a highly professional beautifully designed magazine. I love to see the ongoing dedication to good writing practice and to the support and encouragement offered to new and emerging writers by others who have done the hard yakka and now have much to give back. It is significant that the general contents are similar to the offerings in the newsletter as it was eighteen years ago. So something has been working well for members all these years. Congratulations, Writers Victoria.”

Chris was awarded Life Membership of Writers Victoria in 2003 for her contribution to the organisation, having worked as its Director for six years. (Interestingly, nearly 30% of our current Life Members are called some variation of ‘Chris’).

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