We opened a Festival that placed the power of the writer centre stage, with an address by Fatima Bhutto on the crises faced by her native Pakistan. We knew the tenth anniversary of 9/11 would make this a topic of interest and we knew Bhutto would speak with her trademark rhetorical finesse. But how could we know that Osama Bin Laden would be killed in Pakistan just two weeks prior? Or that, later, the video of Bhutto's address would generate over 200,000 views (and climbing)?
There was every chance they would come out swinging in Food Fighters, but who knew they'd still be throwing punches long after we rang the bell?
We knew there would be debate and division in Porn Wars (thus the title), but couldn't have anticipated the battle continuing -- on television, in our newspapers and online -- even three weeks later.
The 2011 Festival kept delivering the sensation that our authors were tapping into the zeitgeist.
We always hope for at least one moment to put into relief for us what we accomplish with a Festival. An audience moved to tears. Another spontaneously rising to their feet in applause. A hush of intense concentration as people lean forward in their seats. A moment where there's a "click", defining the Festival.
But, weeks later, all of us at Sydney Writers' Festival feel spoiled for such moments.
For many it was in Sydney Opera House, where Ingrid Betancourt seemed to radiate the peace, calm, and dignity the years in captivity bequeathed her.
But then we witnessed Howard Jacobson run hilarious rings around the Chaser and David Mitchell read for us from a soon to be published story as he invited a gurgling baby in the audience to continue to sing out.
And then AC "no notes" Grayling dazzled us with the (intelligent) design of The Good Book, the fruit of 30 years distilling the wisdom of the secular tradition.
And David Leser gently prodded Izzeldin Abuelaish, eliciting a passionate call for us all to acknowledge the humanity on both sides of the Israeli Palestinian divide, prompting a spontaneous standing ovation.
And again, after hearing his story told for years by both supporters and detractors alike (at Sydney Writers' Festival and elsewhere), we heard from David Hicks himself, in what was his first public appearance since the publication of his memoir late last year.
2011 was the year our Festival Club came into its own, thanks to Festival favourites such as Erotic Fan Fiction and Spoken Four, joined this year by the Chaser, whose Empty Vessel was filled each night with local and international writers and live bands such as Robot Child, led by none other than Waleed Aly. (Who knew?) Venue of the year goes to the Club Stage in Pier 2/3, which glowed with a rich warmth and hummed with a vibe that saw people tweeting for it to stay as a permanent addition to Sydney nightlife. (Sadly, we had to pack it up, but hope to return with something equally buzzy next year.)
Our live audience estimate was again over 80,000, but this year we'd spread the Festival to many more beyond the venues themselves. Along with broadcasts, vodcasts and podcasts by ABC Big Ideas on ABC1, Slow TV and others, this year Radio National listeners across the country enjoyed Festival events just moments after they took place, extending our audience reach by thousands.
Each of us had a different Festival moment, and one of the joys of the days and weeks after the festival is poring over the emails we received to discover what your moment was. Thank you for sending us your thoughts, suggestions and enthusiasms. It reminds us all of what was perhaps the best moment of all -- walking through the ebullient crowds crackling with curiosity and conversation spilling out of one venue only to rush into another.