Michaela McGuire's guide to the Festival

Find out which events to go to from the person who knows the program best. Here Artistic Director Michaela McGuire has put together her top Festival picks – and lets us in on her favourite book of 2017. 


Richard Lloyd Parry: Ghosts of the Tsunami

In 2011 a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than 18,000 people drowned, burned to death or been crushed. Award-winning foreign correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry lived through the earthquake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone. Richard found himself drawn back again and again to a village which had suffered the greatest loss of all, where an entire school full of children were waiting in the playground, for their teachers who never evacuated them. Ghosts of the Tsunami is a classic of literary non-fiction: a heart-breaking and intimate account of a tragedy, told through the personal accounts of those who lived through it.

SWF Gala: Power

An extraordinary array of international and Australian guests will be interpreting the Festival theme of power, articulating their personal response to how it relates to sex, identity, money, politics and the state of the world. From Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times critic Wesley Morris to acclaimed director and filmmaker Warwick Thornton, National Book Award-winning Russian journalist Masha Gessen, LGBTQI activist Sally Rugg, New York Times bestselling author of An American Marriage Tayari Jones and founder of Tech LadyMafia and co-host of Call Your Girlfriend Aminatou Sow, this event is the very best opportunity to hear from some of the world’s brightest minds, in a handy one-hour format. Not to be missed.

Why We Read

This session is another embarrassment of riches. Ashley Hay meets an esteemed line-up of Festival favourites to talk about the different ways that reading enriches our lives. From Pulitzer Prize–winning Junot Díaz, celebrated memoirist Tara Westover, founder of Well-Read Black Girl Glory Edim, and renowned author and historian Stuart Kells, this session gets to the very heart of how books have shaped their lives, and why literature remains an empowering force for good in the world today.

Min Jin Lee: Pachinko

Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko was my favourite book of the past year, but don’t take my word for it: it was Roxane Gay’s as well, and one of the New York Times top 10 books of 2017. This is a deep, broad, addictive history of a Korean family living under Japanese occupation. Min brilliantly illuminates a little-known corner of history, and has written a completely gripping novel that crosses cultures and generations. She makes it impossible not to develop tender feelings towards her characters, who you’ll remember and care for long after you’ve read the final page.

Ben Taub: Syria

There’s a host of amazingly accomplished journalists involved in this year’s Festival, including Ben Taub who joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2017. He’s written for the magazine about jihadi recruitment in Europe, war crimes in Syria, battlefield medicine, and human trafficking along the trans-Saharan migration routes from Nigeria to Italy. In this special Festival event, Taub will draw on his award-winning reportage on Syria, sharing his experiences speaking with smugglers, jihadis and spies.

Resisting Unjust Authority

Sarah Krasnostein (The Trauma Cleaner) is one of this year’s Guest Curators, and has designed a stream of events that discuss a taxonomy of resilience, looking at strategies for naming injustice and speaking political truth to power. Sarah is bringing three of the Festival’s brightest minds together to examine our evolving relationship with power: The Future is History author Masha Gessen (The Future is History), Mohammed Al Samawi (The Fox Hunt) and Alexis Okeowo (A Moonless, Starless Sky) consider how unjust authority is wielded and resisted in the modern world, how we can free ourselves from its messages and impact, and how these strategies are changing over time.