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Byron Shire
May 12, 2021

Vale Jesse Blackadder 1964 – 2020

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Jesse Blackadder. Photo supplied.

Alan Close

Our cherished friend, Jesse Blackadder, died last Wednesday, six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She died, as she had wished, with her beloved partner, Andi Davey, and devoted aunt Carol at her bedside.

She was 56.

Jesse was firstly a writer, but also a much-loved teacher and mentor. As a long-serving board member of Byron Writers Festival (BWF), she was also a tireless organiser.

BWF director, Edwina Johnson said, ‘Jesse leaves an extraordinary legacy, not least the wonderful StoryBoard program, which has inspired so many young people to read and write.

Jesse emanated joy and drew out the beauty and potential in everyone she met. We will miss her dearly.’

Fellow BWF board member, Marele Day, added simply, ‘Jesse made the impossible happen.’

Jesse was raised in Sydney and moved to Byron in 1999. An experienced journalist, she wrote for environmental organisations such as Landcare, and in Byron found her voice as a writer of fiction. Her first novel, After the Party, was published in 2005.

With its heady mix of sex, faerie spirituality and unabashed hedonism, it is a reminder of more innocent days in the Bay and remains the quintessential Byron novel of its times.   

Prolific, curious and always ready for a new challenge, Jesse went on to publish historical fiction, contemporary adult novels, and children’s fiction, all to enthusiastic praise from reviewers.

Jesse’s energy, enthusiasm and ‘Why not?’ attitude made her the hub of many wheels. Whether it was organising a tree-planting day for a koala corridor, or arranging pamper packages for sick friends, Jesse was always first to offer help – and make it happen.

While the rest of us were still talking, Jesse had her laptop open, setting up a Facebook page, WhatsApp group or Mailchimp account.

Jesse’s great gift was helping schoolkids find their own joy of writing, and in 2014, she started a fortnightly writing group for school kids in the Lismore Public Library. Jesse insisted that writing be fun.

StoryBoard program

Her mantra was, ‘The first rule of writing is, there are no rules!’

The group, which continues to this day, was the genesis of the ground-breaking StoryBoard program, which sees local writers run creative writing workshops in schools across the Northern Rivers.    

Adventurer

Jesse loved travelling. Reviews often noted the vibrancy of place and landscape in her writing. She made three research trips to the Antarctic, and is the only person to have twice received the sought-after Australian Antarctic Division Arts Fellowship to summer at an Australian Antarctic base.

Her willingness to adventure extended beyond travel. When her new partner Andi announced her intention to compete in ballroom dancing at the 2006 Gay Games in Montreal, Jesse gulped hard, started classes, and six months later the two of them sashayed forth in matching tuxedos to represent their country.

Jesse was diagnosed with cancer in December 2019. Treatment proved unsuccessful and she spent her last days at the beautiful Wedgetail hospice in the hinterland behind Murwillumbah. 

At her death she had on her desk the recently published French edition of her novel Sixty Seconds.

In her computer was the manuscript of her last novel, and on the whiteboard was scrawled her three-year plan for projects we will now never see.

She leaves behind her partner Andi, her family, the many thousands of school students whose writing dreams she nurtured, and a wide circle of friends and colleagues from the world of words and beyond.


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