Festival Welcome

A Message from the Artistic Director


Early one morning, I happened upon an article by Ceridwen Dovey in The New Yorker, ‘Can Reading Make You Happier?’ Ceridwen’s piece explored the ancient concept of bibliotherapy, and spoke about literature’s meditative and restorative effects in terms of mental health, improved relationships and the ability to empathise with others. I liked where this was going. Books are indeed places we can lose ourselves and at the same time find the answers to whatever we might be searching for, even if we don’t quite know what that is. A good festival, like a good book, should bring real-life benefits – joy, solace and a new understanding of the world.

Sydney Writers’ Festival is a week-long extravaganza of ideas and literature. In 2016 we have an exhilarating array of authors bringing their wisdom, knowledge and imaginative whimsy to Sydney.

Opening this year’s Festival is wunderkind Kate Tempest, dubbed a young Patti Smith, and one of the most spectacular performers I’ve seen. After awardwinning books of poetry and a critically acclaimed album, Kate has a new novel that’s defined by the searing truth she’s known for. Her work is electric.

Jonathan Franzen speaks with Anna Funder about Purity, his compelling, amusing and sharply satirical portrait of relationships and family dysfunction. We also have a whole session devoted to Jonathan’s rich, varied and often unexpected reading life.

Feminist icon, writer and activist Gloria Steinem returns to Australia for the first time since the 1980s to share stories about life, travel and adventure. In another session in Walsh Bay she’ll convince you why women should rule the world.

An epic novel about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley was a brilliant choice for last year’s Man Booker Prize, and we welcome its Jamaican-born author Marlon James.

The great Julian Barnes, who also won the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending, speaks about The Noise of Time, an immersive parable about power, art and control, which fictionalises the life of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Beloved British novelist William Boyd discusses his new book Sweet Caress, and shares his insights into screenwriting in an exclusive masterclass.

Jeanette Winterson brings The Gap of Time, a modern take on The Winter’s Tale with all the grandeur of Shakespeare and her own particular lyricism. Jeanette is a wildly imaginative storyteller who has no peer. Her talks are extraordinary. She’s not to be missed.

Elena Ferrante’s novels have been some of the most loved and obsessively read books of the past year. While the author herself remains anonymous, we are fortunate to hear directly from her gifted translator, Ann Goldstein. Join us for a forensic discussion of Ferrante’s novels at Sydney Town Hall.

The Girl on the Train has also transfixed millions of readers around the world, and we welcome its author Paula Hawkins.

There is a rare chance to hear from Elizabeth Harrower, the Australian writer whose work has been praised by Christina Stead and Patrick White. This will be only her second public interview.

Another one of Australia’s most celebrated writers, David Malouf, interviews Pulitzer Prizewinning poet and poetry editor at The New Yorker, Paul Muldoon. This will be an incredible meeting of minds.

Hear inspiring personal stories across the Festival week. Zelda la Grange, Nelson Mandela’s private secretary, remembers her life by his side. Richard Glover, Magda Szubanski and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen share stories of their lives and upbringing that are brave and surprising. Drusilla Modjeska talks books, friends and lovers in Second Half First. Julia Leigh opens up about her memoir, which speaks of her gruelling experience with IVF and the dreams we have for our lives. In today’s cultural and political landscape, Stan Grant is an essential voice. His new book is a powerful meditation on race, culture and Australian identity.

At Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres Kerry O’Brien gives the lowdown on Paul Keating, Bob Brown shares his optimism, and Suad Amiry revisits home through Palestinian stories.

James Rebanks, the Herdwick Shepherd, hails from the Lake District in England, where his family has lived for over 600 years. His bestselling book about the rituals of life on the land will make you dream of returning to a more simple life. In contrast, Vivian Gornick lives and breathes the streets of New York, with all of their chance encounters. Her book, The Odd Woman and the City, is a paean to literature and friendship. Both James and Vivian are utterly charming and insightful.

This year for the first time we have three guest curators: Susie Orbach, George Megalogenis and Anna Funder, who bring vision and flair to the program. Look for their events here.

Our favourite writers tell us about the book that saved them in a gala event at Sydney Town Hall. There’s also a series of live psychoanalytic interviews with Susie Orbach, revealing a side to writers you don’t usually see. And book in to see our bibliotherapist-in-residence, Susan Elderkin, who shares a lifetime of literary remedies.

Take a fresh look at some of the most pressing  issues we’re facing today in a thought-provoking series called Thinking Globally. Are we witnessing the end of Europe? Should there be a universal right to migration? Just how big is Big Brother? In another fascinating series, Writers Talk Politics, we focus on France, America, China, Ireland and India, and unearth each country’s cultural and political preoccupations through writers who know the terrain intimately.

Hear from Yeonmi Park, who escaped the brutality of the North Korean regime; Xu Zhiyuan, the man described by Ai Weiwei as ‘the most important Chinese intellectual of his generation’, and Emma Sky, who exposes what went wrong in Iraq in her acclaimed book, The Unravelling.

The charismatic Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, opens up about his new book and his recently launched pan-European political movement. Oxford scholar Peter Frankopan gives a dazzling alternate view of world history as seen through the Silk Roads, and Jean-Christophe Rufin, co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, walks another route, the Camino de Santiago.

Nights at the Wharf are irresistible this year. Don’t miss Adam Spencer speaking with gravitational wave expert, astrophysicist Janna Levin. See People of Letters, Night of the Nerds and Rebecca Vaughan who gives a dramatic interpretation of Austen’s Women, performed most evenings. Catch the Festival’s most uninhibited conversations with an intriguing range of writers at the Late Night Salon. One guest is podcast sensation, Starlee Kine, previously of This American Life, now the host of Mystery Show.

In the Children's and Young Adult program we launch Best of the Fest, our new venture with the Board of Studies, with events for students featuring some of the Festival’s most dynamic thinkers. There’s also our School Days Program, with luminaries such as Michael Grant, Claire Zorn, Judith Rossell and Liz Pichon. Jon Klassen, author of I Want My Hat Back, and John Boyne, who wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, also feature in both the children and adult programs. On Sunday May 22, kids and teens take over Pier 4/5 for the first time ever, as we run four free venues, all with their own brand of mischief and mayhem.

Our closing address goes directly to the heart of the relationship between a writer and her reader. Hanya Yanagihara is one of this year’s most anticipated guests, with her Man Bookershortlisted novel A Little Life both inspiring adulation and polarising critics across the world. This is a book that gets under everyone’s skin. In an address called ‘The Conversations Between Words’, Hanya asks if a writer owes her reader anything more than a compelling story.

Sydney will transform in May with authors and ideas flooding the city. Bringing fresh perspectives from all corners of the world, these writers enhance our community with their stories, humour, creativity and vision. This is something to celebrate, and celebrate we will.

Have a great Festival!

Jemma Birrell
Artistic Director



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