Sarah Krasnostein, Charlotte Wood and Marcia Langton

Three of Australia’s finest writers and thinkers – Sarah Krasnostein, Charlotte Wood and Marcia Langton – have brought their unique vision to Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2018. They’ve each guest curated three events inspired by the Festival’s theme: The Year of Power

Writer and lawyer Sarah Krasnostein has framed a series of events that discuss a taxonomy of resilience, looking at strategies for naming injustice, speaking truth to power, and positing empathy as sustenance, motivation and a political issue. Sarah’s narrative non-fiction has been inspired by the invisible and marginalised worlds hinted at in the criminal cases she’s read over the years.

Sarah Krasnostein: The Trauma Cleaner
Sarah speaks to author Ashley Hay about her first book, The Trauma Cleaner, which won the 2017 Victorian Prize for Literature. Sarah spent four years researching the life of trauma cleaner Sandra Pankhurst, visiting squalid homes and watching her bring order into the lives of her clients, to pull together her award-winning biography. She talks about uncovering Sandra’s fascinating story – and discovering the many lives she has lived.

In this event, three of the Festival’s brightest minds come together to examine our evolving relationship with power. The Future is History author Masha Gessen, The Fox Hunt author Mohammed Al Samawi and A Moonless, Starless Sky author Alexis Okeowo meet Sarah to consider how unjust authority is wielded and resisted in a modern world, and how we can free ourselves from its impact.

The Politics of Empathy
In a panel moderated by Wheeler Centre’s Sophie Black, Sarah joins Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz (Islandborn) and novelist Pajtim Statovci (My Cat Yugoslavia) to explore how storytelling can promote connection in a fragmented society. They discuss how human relationships operate as a fortifying antidote in a world where extreme voices threaten to erode our identities.

Across three events, Charlotte Wood contemplates the power of laughter and how it can be used to tell uncomfortable truths. In 2017, the author of five novels and two works of non-fiction spoke with The Guardian’s Lucy Clarke about how ‘anger, surely, is ameliorated, made bearable, transformed by laughter’. Her 2015 novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the Stella Prize and Indie Book of the Year in 2016, and was joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Fiction. 

Sharp Instruments
Wit is a weapon in the hands of Michelle de Kretser (The Life to Come), Josephine Wilson (Extinctions) and Craig Sherborne (Off The Record). In conversation with Charlotte, the three novelists (whose scalpel-sharp observations show us the charm, cruelty and absurdity of our contemporary world) talk about how sly humour reveals uncomfortable truths about how we live today.

Amy Bloom: White Houses
Charlotte meets the bestselling author of Lucky Us and Away, to talk about the unlikely subject of her most recent novel, White Houses. In a triumph of historical fiction, Amy Bloom reimagines the forbidden love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok. In doing so, she illuminated one of the most intriguing relationships in political history with emotional depth, wit and acuity. 

If You Don’t Laugh, You’ll Cry
Fiction writer and critic Tegan Bennett Daylight joins Charlotte to examine the mysterious, yet essential ways that a sense of humour can illuminate writing with surprise, humanity and truth. Together, they reflect on their favourite books – and their own work – to discuss how comedy can reveal character, energetic prose and bear witness to the strangeness of life.

Professor Marcia Langton AM has curated three events examining rituals, taboos and the Indigenous rules of engagement. The anthropologist and geographer, who since 2000, has held the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, has produced a large body of knowledge in the areas of political and legal anthropology, Indigenous agreements, culture and art.

Marcia Langton: Welcome to Country
Despite growing interest from overseas visitors and Australian travellers in learning more about the nation’s first peoples, no comprehensive guide to Indigenous tourism had been published. Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country: A Guide to Indigenous Australia covers topics such as Indigenous language and customs, history, native title and storytelling. She speaks with The Saturday Paper’s Erik Jensen about her directory to appreciating 50,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.

Taboo and Other Battles
Indigenous literature has flourished in recent decades, creating an increasingly nuanced portrayal of our colonial history. But what are the personal transformations among this canon best inform debates about reconciliation today? Marcia and renowned Indigenous writer Kim Scott speak to Mark Baker about the role of fiction in our ongoing discovery of the past, its resonance with the present and the reckoning of historic tragedies by storytellers within their work.

In the media, literature and the arts, Indigenous Australians are frequently portrayed as being powerless victims. Playwright and actor Nakkiah Lui and author Stan Grant meet Marcia to examine the agency of Indigenous people, and whether their voices are being lost in an increasingly cynical political process.

View the full program here.