Career moves for Wheeler Centre director


By Rhonda Dredge

Wheeler Centre director Michael Williams has resigned after more than 10 years in the job and he spoke to CBD News about his decision.

The Williams era at Melbourne’s solid bluestone Wheeler Centre is coming to an end and it’s time to sum up a decade of talks, events and programs aimed at building a literary culture in the city.

Williams hasn’t written a report on his term of office. He prefers to have a chat in the Moat café.

You could say that conviviality has been the hallmark of his steerage. 

If you rock up at the door of the Wheeler Centre they’ll always try and fit you in even if you don’t have a ticket, and all the people who work on the front desk love books.

“We have no illusion about privilege,” Williams told CBD News. “We’re a well-resourced piece of infrastructure.”

Some, such as Sydney writer Luke Carman, have been critical of what he called the “Melbourne voice”. 

In an essay Getting Square in a Jerking Circle Carman likened Wheeler Centre staff to “lit-scene mobsters” who doled out praise to the undeserving. 

Williams counters that claim by saying that they have been careful in their programming to try and find gaps, not to compete with or swallow up existing literary events.

He said if writers or thinkers already had loud megaphones then they didn’t need the Wheeler Centre to get their voices heard.

“I’ve worked hard not to make a closed shop,” he said. “You have to have fun and be willing to have some skin in the game. I’m enamoured by other people’s stories.”

Williams grew up in a bookish household and said it was hard to find a career for life for a bookish kid.  

First, he went into publishing as an editor then joined the Wheeler Centre as program director. 

He admits to being a reader rather than a writer, with a preference for fiction, and he is not leaving to write a novel even though he says that art is always more flattering than reality. 

“There are clearly lots of people with wonderful voices and no stories and vice versa. I love words and writing but don’t have a story to tell.”

He does narrativise his own life though. Williams is in the job for a further two months while the Wheeler Centre seeks a new director.

“I’m using the next two months to handle separation anxiety so I’m feeling less bittersweet about walking away,” he said. 

“People in their dream jobs often stay too long. The job’s bigger than any one person. Creative roles need renewal. I’m too in love with this place.”

He isn’t revealing what his next career move will be.

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