Explore the 2024 Program

Special Moments from the Festival

Attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival can be a gleeful experience – especially when hopping from Bays to Tracks venues and back again, tucked inside at Carriageworks, oscillating between your favourite authors on stage, world-expanding conversations, powerful stories that unravel the boundaries of imagination and intellectually punctilious discussions that pinpoint our greatest problems. Ideas, stories, memoir and poetry abound. Here are just some of the special moments – and words – we captured yesterday.

Of course we begin with appreciation for our volunteers with Ben Quilty, standing at the podium of Sydney Town Hall at the Change My Mind Storytelling Gala, calling out to his godmother (or “godless mother”) Jane, who was volunteering with the Festival on the night. “I love you, Aunty Jane!” he called out into the darkness. We're sure she loves you too. 

From the golden backdrop of Sydney Town Hall to a stage flanked by Sydney Writers’ Festival flags where Hanya Yanagihara declares this festival as her favourite. And compares herself to a wombat – she’s been reading about them as she’ll be meeting one today. “I’m a very lazy person…and there’s a lot of similarities,” she says. 

While Hanya’s favourite book is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, for Melissa Lucashenko, no book shaped her or her writing more than Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. In fact, when Melissa discovered she was at the same festival as Keri Hulme some time ago, she wrangled her room number and knocked on her door. “The door opened and there stood my idol…’do you want a beer?”’, she said.” We won’t tell what happened after, you had to be there. 

But breath caught and even the rain grew quiet when Melissa turned to Jackie Huggins to say, “Jackie, your books did for me what bell hooks did for you.” 

And not even thunder could drown out Clem Bastow’s triumphant singing of Stephen Sondheim’s songs as she shared how his music made her, as a young girl with yet undiagnosed autism, feel recognised. “It was okay if I felt bewildered by the world around me because sometimes these characters did too.”

To listen is the greatest act of love you can ever do.
Trent Dalton

From writers who lift our spirits, to those that break our hearts... 

At the Curiosity Stage, Sarah Holland-Batt delivered an unforgettable speech about aged care and how our world cares not the elderly. As she read a poem, written for her father who had passed away, audience members cried, sharing her sadness. 

“My light comes from such dark,” says Trent Dalton when discussing his determined optimism (who could forget his homage to hugs at last year’s Festival?). He shares a story of his mother, of domestic violence. “If you have 10 people in your life that you get to love, you’re so frickin lucky,” he says. And we are lucky to have him. 

COVID may have prevented some guests from joining us in person, but they do let us peek into our favourite writers’ kitchens (Sarah Winman) and living rooms. Brendan Cowell kindly introduced us to his isolation buddy, a life-size stuffed alpaca called Kerry Alpaca, live over zoom from his apartment. 

Narelda Jacobs, Antoinette Lattouf and Clementine Ford listed one after the other, the First Nations writers and advocates “who have worked tirelessly in this election. Who chip away to enact the change that has led to this moment.” A round of applause meets the names of Jess Hill, Annabel Crabb, Katherine Murphy, Hannah Diviney and so many more – “everyone in this Festival that’s written a book," says Narelda Jacobs.  

“To listen is the greatest act of love you can ever do,” said Trent Dalton yesterday. Here’s to another great day of listening.