Festival guide: Daily highlights

Over four big days of books, podcasts, politics, and literature, the Sydney Writers’ Festival boasts the biggest established names, the most exciting emerging writers, and a remarkable line-up in between. With more than 300 events on offer, we’ve done the legwork for you and put together a daily plan of Festival highlights that you simply cannot miss.

Thursday

Start your Sydney Writers’ Festival experience the right way with Christos Tsiolkas: On Patrick White and hear Christos recount the year he spent reading the Nobel Prize-winning author who he believes “did more than any other writer in the twentieth century to create an imaginative language that we can call ‘Australian’”. Next up is Tara Westover: Educated, a fascinating account of a Mormon survivalist child born to parents who opposed public education, and her transformative journey to earning a PhD. No-one quite understands the power of education better than former teacher, passionate advocate, and social justice leader Christine Milne. She speaks to Lenore Taylor about her recently published memoir in Christine Milne: An Activist Life.

Next up, two of the Festival’s powerhouse authors – widely-lauded Min Jin Lee and Pulitzer Prize-winning Jennifer Egan – share the stage at On the Record: Historical Fiction, discussing the comprehensive research that goes into imaginatively writing historical fiction. If the idea of powerhouse authors gets you excited, then look no further than Junot Díaz: Islandborn. The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author discusses his delightful, beautifully illustrated children’s book and its themes of identity and belonging that have also underpinned his celebrated adult fiction. Finally, after getting acquainted earlier in the day, head to Min Jin Lee: Pachinko to hear about her luminous novel that speaks to the struggles of immigrants in foreign lands.

Friday

The most looked-forward-to day of the week is made more so by our stunningly brilliant Friday program. It kicks off with Zack McDermott: Gorilla and the Bird, a captivating and heartfelt event detailing Zack’s struggle with bipolar disorder and the extraordinary ways his sharp, stalwart mother helped him live through it. Topical and urgent, Going Rogue: North Korea brings together uniquely-placed experts to examine the current state of the most isolated nation (for now) in the world. Equally topical (considering we’re at a writers’ festival), Why We Read features an esteemed line-up of Festival favourites for an entertaining discussion about the many different ways that reading enriches our lives. One of the reasons we read is to humanise the tragedies of the world. Richard Lloyd Parry: Ghosts of the Tsunami is a haunting, gripping, and brilliantly reported account of the 2011 Tokyo earthquake, the ensuing tsunami, and its devastating, heart-wrenching aftermath.

Another not-to-be-missed event, Katy Tur: Unbelievable provides unique insight into Donald Trump's presidential campaign as a target of his most vitriolic attacks. Listen to “disgraceful”, “third-rate”, and “not nice” “little Katy” at Sydney Town Hall, and hear how she withstood the opprobrium of the most erratic presidential candidate in US history. To conclude this massive day, the wildly popular SWF Gala: Power brings together some of our most distinguished guests to interpret this year’s theme and its relationship to sex, money, politics, and identity. The Gala is an annual Festival tradition and provides a platform for the Festival’s brightest stars to make a firm case for literature, stories, and public conversation helping resist the pull of a backward-lurching culture.

Saturday

Make sure to get in early for the Carriageworks Farmers Market before starting your Festival weekend at the Seymour Centre. Angela Saini: Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong will be an eye-opening look at the flawed thinking on the differences (or lack of) in men and women, how they think and feel, and the neurosexism of scientific research. Over at Carriageworks, highly anticipated Festival guest Peter Greste speaks about his enlightening firsthand account of how the war on journalism spread from the battlefields of the Middle East to the governments of the West in Peter Greste: The First Casualty. A literary and commercial sensation despite its challenging subject matter, My Absolute Darling is one of the Festival’s most talked-about novels. In Gabriel Tallent: My Absolute Darling, the debut author speaks about his confronting and virtuosic work.

One of our favourite parts of Sydney Writers’ Festival is bringing together intelligent and exciting authors to speak about the themes that connect their books with each other. The Body Politic features three of the most stylistically daring authors of the past year – Carmen Maria Machado, Emma Glass, and Sharlene Teo – to cross-examine the ways in which they deal with women’s bodies and horror in their celebrated works. Another coming-together of sharp-minded women, Zinzi Clemmons, Aminatou Sow, Nakkiah Lui, Jenny Zhang, and Jamila Rizvi join forces to discuss and interrogate the scope and purpose of modern feminism in My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit. The conversation continues at Sydney Town Hall for our Saturday headline event, This is Not a Moment, It’s a Movement. Three prominent voices – Tracey Spicer, Irin Carmon, and Jenna Wortham – speak to the reckoning of the #MeToo movement, its repercussions, and what there is left to do in the fight for justice and respect.

Sunday

The Festival’s final day heralds an expansive program covering a multitude of topics (not to mention Sunday is our Family Day!) To begin, Miles Franklin-winning Michelle de Kretser discusses her latest thought-provoking and savagely funny contribution to contemporary Australian literature in Michelle de Kretser: The Life to Come. Speaking of contemporary Australia, The Rise of Australian Populism is a marrying of experts who are well-placed to understand our current state of domestic affairs and why there is such discontent with the political establishment. In Alexis Okeowo: A Moonless, Starless Sky, the widely-lauded writer speaks about her “rich and urgently necessary book” that paints a portrait of Africa with strokes of the courage, resistance, and agency displayed by the continent’s people in the face of fundamentalism and violence. In another part of the world, malicious state actors are the ones perpetrating the violence. Ben Taub: Syria will be an eye-opening presentation that is the culmination of his experiences speaking with smugglers, jihadis, and spies in the war-torn country, featuring audio and footage from his many interviews.

If you’re a lover of the classics, you won’t want to miss Emily Wilson: Translating the Odyssey. In 2017, Emily became the first woman to translate the tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic into English; a work praised for its accessibility and accuracy. Like every good book, we conclude our 2018 Festival story with a final chapter that will leave you both content and eager. Our Closing Address will feature the “refreshingly unclassifiable novelist” Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winner and President of PEN America. She will speak to the role of technology in our lives, its association with fiction and reality, and how we might shape up to a future where technology will challenge and shift our ideas of and relationships with power.