Jesse Ball (The Divers’ Game), Liam Pieper (Sweetness and Light) and Jeff VanderMeer (Dead Astronauts) have each penned novels that examine the darkest aspects of humanity – historical, real and imagined scenarios of systematic dehumanisation that force us to ask how bad things can get. Wilamina Russo asks the trio how they grapple with questions of exploitation, inequality, justice, freedom and opportunity. Together, they discuss how pushing themselves and their readers to the limits of empathy can help diagnose the savagery of the past and present, and create a new path forward.

Liam Pieper (Australian)

Liam Pieper

Liam Pieper's 2014 memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, was shortlisted for the National Biography Award and the Ned Kelly Best True Crime award. In 2015 he was the UNESCO Resident for City of Literature of Prague. His first novel The Toymaker has been widely translated and won the Fellowship of Australian Writers Christina Stead Fiction Award. He was the 2018 National Library of Australia Creative Arts Fellow for Australian Writing. Sweetness and Light is his new novel.

Jesse Ball (International)

Jesse Ball

"Jesse Ball is the author of 18 books, most recently the novel The Divers’ Game. His works have been published to acclaim in many parts of the world and translated into more than a dozen languages. He is on the faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, received The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize, and was longlisted for the National Book Award. Jesse was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and has been a fellow of the NEA, Creative Capital and the Guggenheim Foundation."

Jeff VanderMeer (International)

Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer is an award-winning novelist known for his emphasis on environmental themes. His critically acclaimed novel Borne was called “a thorough marvel” by Colson Whitehead, was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and is being developed for television by AMC. His critically acclaimed New York Times–bestselling Southern Reach trilogy won the Shirley Jackson Award and Nebula Award. The trilogy prompted The New Yorker to call the author “the weird Thoreau”, and was published in 35 countries, with Paramount Pictures releasing a movie in 2018. Jeff’s non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Guardian UK, The Atlantic.com and The Los Angeles Times. Jeff’s latest book is Dead Astronauts, the focus of a profile in The New York Times. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, the award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer, and Neo, a cat famous on the internet.

Wilamina Russo (Australian)

Wilamina Russo

Wilamina Russo is a Sydney based writer and broadcaster with a passion for the arts. As host of the weekly radio segment, Interview With An Artist for 2ser, Wilamina profiles Australian painters, sculptors, and writers. Her previous publications include the podcast Work It Baby, exploring the lives of women at work; and the book Couldn't Wouldn't Didn't, insights into the lives of women who never gave birth.