Hardy, who co-curated the Women of Letters events for seven years, joined the festival at a time when it needed to establish a point of difference from the Wheeler Centre, which in effect provides a year-round writers festival in the city.
She turned MWF into a ‘‘literary arts festivals’’ and introduced greater elements of theatrical performance, music and visual arts to the traditional menu. Her first, titled A Matter of Life and Death, included such events as a funeral for Magda Szubanski; her second, this year’s When We talk About Love, programmed an exhibition from the acclaimed Museum of Broken Relationships alongside international writers such as Tayari Jones, PatrickDeWitt and Deborah Lipstadt, and a host of Australian authors.
But she came in for hostile comment from some publishers and media commentators, particularly for her first festival.
‘‘I really trusted what I was making and the direction the festival was going in. I also understand that people fear change, change is difficult and transitional times are tough. So I tried not to take personally the fear-based criticism that was coming for the festival. The response we got was overwhelmingly powerful and a huge-box office response,’’ Hardy said.
Ticket revenue in 2018 jumped by $184,000 on the previous year, although 2017’s had 15 fewer events.
And Hardy shrugged off the initial media criticism.
‘‘Unfortunately, it’s something I am accustomed to. I have been vilified in the right-wing press for over 15 years now and there comes a time when you just think no matter how nice I am not everyone is going to like me and what I do. I would rather be me than them in the world,’’ she said.
Hardy declined to discuss her other writing projects: ‘‘I’ve been a freelance for 20 years. The minute you talk about a project, it falls over.’’
Hardy and the festival program manager, Gene Smith, who will become associate director, have already started work on next year’s festival.