Melanie Cheng & Lisa Lucas

This year’s program is enriched by two special guests who have brought their unique creative vision to the Festival. They’ve each guest curated three events inspired by the Festival’s theme: Lie to Me.

Melanie Cheng (Australia Day and Room for a Stranger) has framed events that contemplate reflections. She’ll examine how we derive our sense of self in an increasingly fragmented and digitalised world, and whether it’s truly possible to start afresh in a new land, or whether the past follows us wherever we go.

Smoke and Mirrors

How do we derive a sense of self in an increasingly fragmented and digitalised world? What is real – a carefully curated social media persona or a scarred, imperfect body? Perhaps the self is just an illusion, an attempt to create order amidst the chaos. Melanie Cheng tackles these questions with three esteemed authors who have each wrestled with concepts of the self through their work: Eleanor Gordon-Smith (Stop Being Reasonable), Lee Kofman (Imperfect) and Olivia Sudjic (Exposure and Sympathy).

An Irrevocable Condition

James Baldwin famously wrote, “perhaps home is not a place, but an irrevocable condition.” Is it possible to sever all ties with one’s birthplace and start afresh in a new land, or will – as Baldwin suggests – the past follow us everywhere we go, like a shadow? Christos Tsiolkas poses the question to acclaimed authors Melanie Cheng (a guest Festival curator and author of Room for a Stranger), Moreno Giovannoni (The Fireflies of Autumn) and Ling Ma (Severance), who each explore themes of immigration and identity through their work.

Melanie Cheng: Room for a Stranger

A GP and writer Melanie Cheng returns to the Festival with Room for a Stranger, her follow-up to the prize-winning Australia Day. As an author, she has been lauded as “astonishingly deft and incisive” by Christos Tsiolkas and “sharp and sympathetic” by Jennifer Down. She speaks with Ailsa Piper about a novel that unfolds the seemingly ordinary lives of an elderly woman and struggling student living under the same roof to reveal the complex and important truths about connection and home. 

National Book Foundation’s Executive Director Lisa Lucas considers all kinds of lies: the lies writers are told (and tell themselves) about their careers; the lie that women’s stories, friendships and fury shouldn’t enjoy as much prominence as those of men; and she looks at turning hard truths about inequality, racism and justice into fiction.

Inside Stories

The authors of two different but exceptionally fearless books, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black) and Rachel Kushner (The Mars Room) have both highlighted issues critical to our world today. Through their work they’ve addressed the realities of – and antidotes to – inequality, racism and a faulty justice system. Nana Kwame and Rachel join Lisa Lucas to discuss the scope and influence of storytelling, how fiction can connect readers to real-world issues, and the tools they use to illuminate hard truths.

The Writers' Lie

What are the different lies that both aspiring and accomplished writers are told about their career trajectory and what are the white lies they tell themselves? Lisa Lucas explores these deceptions and blind spots of a literary life with 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Sean Greer (Less) and acclaimed novelist and essayist Alexander Chee (How to Write an Autobiographical Novel).

Outside Voices

Award-winning journalist Rebecca Traister (Good and Mad) and bestselling novelist Meg Wolitzer (The Wife and The Female Persuasion) have contributed to important conversations about women’s lives and feminism through their acclaimed works. Lisa Lucas speaks with them about how writing women in full relief can change the way readers understand themselves. They also discuss the evolving articulation of female rage on the page and why once unsung and sidelined stories of female fury, friendship and mentorship are newly popular today.

View the full program, here.