Change my mind with a stanza or a couplet, a jarring dissonance, a beautiful echo or a rhyme. Change it with a flight of fancy, an intricate, imagined world, a compelling character I’ll never meet but never forget. Turn it upside down with searing rhetoric, impeccable research, the knock-out argument that has me questioning everything I know and all that I believe.

Twelve months ago, beset by a global pandemic that shrouded every plan in uncertainty and threw every certainty into question, I described our 2021 Festival as one underpinned by a sense of hope. We gathered our community together and celebrated being within reach of one another again.

“To be hopeful,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her seminal work Hope in the Dark, “means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.”

Now, in 2022, this is a festival underpinned by a sense of urgency, by a dedication to change. A response to a world where public debate is increasingly polarised and toxic. Expert advice is ignored and politicised. The imaginative, the creative and the lateral are disregarded and devalued. Structural power and privileged perspectives drown out lived experience and voices of dissent.

We believe in literature and its role in articulating and shaping a better way. We believe that it is more than words. We believe that a writers’ festival is more than just talk.

Change My Mind is an invitation, a challenge and a promise of intent. Because uncertain times – a world divided and ruptured, at odds and in crisis – require a willingness to be open-minded, and a commitment to generosity and reciprocity.

Rebecca Solnit is one of almost 400 authors, storytellers, thinkers and artists joining us from 16 to 22 May this year. Between our Opening Night Address at Sydney Town Hall with Ali Cobby Eckermann, Jackie Huggins and Nardi Simpson, and our Closing Night Address with Chloe Hooper, you will hear ideas and stories, challenges and confidences that will shape how you see the world and what you believe.

Once again our dual spotlights shine a light on the authors who brought us some of the finest new Australian books of the past 12 months, including Miles Allinson & Emily Bitto, Maxine Beneba Clarke & Omar Musa, Liane Moriarty & Caroline Overington, Marcia Langton & Julianne Schultz, Michelle de Kretser & Christos Tsiolkas, Claire G. Coleman & Eda Gunaydin, Brendan Cowell & Trent Dalton, Jackie Huggins & Chelsea Watego, Jennifer Down & Hannah Kent, Clementine Ford & Bridie Jabour, Michelle Cahill & Yumna Kassab, Amanda Lohrey & Charlotte Wood, Dervla McTiernan & Christian White, Delia Falconer & Indira Naidoo, George Haddad & Omar Sakr, Jessica Au & Larissa Behrendt; and more. Your favourite Australian writer is definitely in the mix, and your next favourite is ready for you to discover.

 

Three extraordinary writers from further afield have navigated the world of COVID-constrained travel to join us in person – Booker Prize winner Damon Galgut, international sensation Hanya Yanagihara, and activist and advocate Derecka Purnell – while others join us via video to ensure truly international conversations. Julian Barnes, Sarah Winman, Torrey Peters, Johann Hari and Art Spiegelman as well as far-flung Australians Warren Ellis, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Steve Toltz bring us the benefit of outside perspectives and sideways views.

While we didn’t know at the time of writing if the federal election would fall on Festival Saturday, we have the definitive takes for desperate political junkies – as well as something for those looking for a good book to hide in. For analysis and pre- (or post-) match reports, Barrie Cassidy is back, as is Fran Kelly, who alongside Patricia Karvelas deliver a ‘Party Room Live’ on Thursday night. But politics is bigger than just party games and political theatre, so we open up the conversation to wider questions of the words that shape our world.

How we talk to one another – what the process should be for disagreeing, persuading and changing minds – is front and centre in this year’s Festival. We dig deep into the mechanisms, the decision- making and the influences that define us, while our storytelling gala asks 12 writers to reflect on the art, people and experiences that have changed their minds.

Our Guest Curators Tony Birch and Fiona Murphy explore the places where writerly ambitions and creative values coincide – and where they diverge. We get to the bottom of widespread anxiety about who gets to speak and what they get to say with sessions on literary appropriation, media silences, defamation law, and the challenges and limits of free speech. Plus sessions on everything from Jane Austen to artificial intelligence, Curious George to the role of Christianity in Australian politics, epic moments in oratory to unearthing the finest literary musicals never made.

Every year, Sydney Writers’ Festival runs events for young adults, teens and families that excite and energise young minds. This year, Family Day returns for an entertaining and informative celebration of self-expression, science, art and storytelling. Adam Goodes, David Hardy and Ellie Laing celebrate First Nations culture and history in Welcome to Our Country, while Corey Tutt shares knowledge of the First Scientists of this land. Learn all about animals with Sami Bayly and Remy Lai. Sing a song with Josh Pyke and dive into a forest of fairytales with Shaun Micallef. Say farewell to Felix with Morris Gleitzman, and hello to Stevie Louise with Tanya Hennessy. The Big Backyard awaits our young Festival-goers with a full day of free and fun activities.

With sessions specially curated by Sydney Writers’ Festival Youth Curators, All-Day YA is an epic celebration of all things YA. Returning on Saturday May 21, we’re delighted to bring authors including Felicity Castagna, Amie Kaufman, Kay Kerr, Astrid Scholte and Jared Thomas to Carriageworks to share stories of teens who find themselves out of place and those finding their way. From reclaiming the strength of teenage girls to fearlessly writing yourself into genres, these sessions are sure to challenge and comfort. And this year, All-Day YA concludes with a special evening gala event where eight incredible YA authors enter their pleas for a character in the court of literary opinion.

Beloved Festival favourites and exciting new events take over the city, from poetry readings and Curiosity Lectures to workshops, events across Sydney’s libraries, a great debate and a debutante ball celebrating new voices published in the vacuum of COVID.

 

So much of our public life has been reduced to culture wars and entrenched disagreement. Turn on the news and find supposed ‘left-wingers’ advocating carceral responses; so-called ‘radical feminists’ who exclude, vilify and demonise other women; ‘conservatives’ radically tearing down institutions; ‘right-wing ecowarriors’; and ‘wellness gurus’ who ... well, honestly, who the hell knows what they stand for at this point. Everyone knows best and nobody, it seems, is willing to listen to anything different.

For one week this May, leave the shouting matches, doomscrolling and white noise of daily life behind. Read, listen, talk and take the time – with respect and empathy, compassion and imagination, and your most open and changeable mind – at Sydney Writers’ Festival 2022.

Michael Williams
Artistic Director