Rebels, agitators and voices of the uprising — these are the sessions to know if you want to understand what’s happening in the world and how to be part of the revolution.

Keep reading for our top picks on leading voices from this year's Sydney Writers' Festival. 


Class Acts: Writers on Capitalism, 2 May, 1.30pm

Two of the Festival’s most exciting millennial authors explore how their darkly funny, profoundly moving debut works engage with the excesses of late capitalism. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s stinging satire Friday Black dissects the dehumanising forces of capitalism and racism in America. Ireland’s Caoilinn Hughes examines art, privilege and the meritocracy myth in her hilarious and anarchic Orchid and the Wasp. In conversation with Peter Polites.

All the Rage, 2 May, 8.30pm

Two of today’s leading feminist voices, Brittney Cooper (Eloquent Rage) and Rebecca Traister (Good and Mad), join Santilla Chingaipe for a timely and captivating discussion about the history, power and possibilities of women’s anger. They examine how structural realities around gender, race and class have divided women from each other and make a call to anger between allies. They also analyse the history of women mobilising in transformative political movements – from suffrage to civil rights – and the fault lines exposed more recently by #MeToo.

The Right Way Up: Populism in Australia, 3 May, 10am

While most think of Australia as a successful democracy underpinned by liberal values, it’s increasingly clear that we may not be immune from the global rise of xenophobic and nativist forces. Some are concerned that populism is pulling the Liberal Party and sections of our media to the right and will have implications for years to come. Associate Professor David Blaazer speaks with The Rise of the Right author and one-time Liberal Party adviser Greg Barns, writer for the ABC and Guardian Australia Jennine Khalik, former Greens senator Scott Ludlam and political writer George Megalogenis about the issue.

Poetic Justice, 4 May, 11.30am

Before she was forced to flee to America, Dunya Mikhail was the literary editor of the Baghdad Observer. Renowned for her subversive, innovative and satirical lyrics and fables, Dunya’s award-winning poetry explores war, exile, love and loss. She speaks with Michael Kelleher about her prolific body of work, using metaphor and symbolism to evade censorship in Iraq, the perniciousness of self-censorship in the West, and why she says “poetry is not medicine [but] an X-ray”.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Friday Black, 5 May, 3pm

A surreal and startling short story collection tackling racism and cultural unrest, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black heralds the arrival of a thrilling new literary star. George Saunders describes this instant bestseller as “an excitement and wonder” while The New York Times praises it as “an unbelievable debut”. Khalid Warsame meets Nana Kwame to discuss his unstinting reckoning with the brutal prejudice of the US justice system, the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all. 

Ece Temelkuran: How to Lose a Country, 5 May, 4.30pm

One of Europe’s respected political thinkers, Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran discusses How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, a field guide to spotting the insidious patterns and mechanisms of a rising populist wave, in conversation with Sally Warhaft. Weaving memoir, history and argument, she delivers an impassioned warning that populism and nationalism creep into government rather than arriving fully formed, while identifying the tools to root them out. This event is for anyone who thinks it couldn’t happen here.