Time Out Sydney's Editorial Director Alyx Gorman spent her Festival week wisely, clocking up dozens of talks and panels with some of the brightest literary voices both at home and abroad.

But sometimes, it's in those in-between moments — chatting to a stranger in the audience, or a throwaway comment from a moderator — where you learn something truly remarkable. Here, Alyx details just some of the most interesting things she discovered during the course of the week.

After the opening party at Sydney Writers’ Festival, I already had two new podcasts to listen to. By Friday, my ‘to do’ list had expanded to TV shows and personal practices. By Sunday, I’d gathered tips to become a better moderator and a more interesting person. Did anyone have any books for me? Well yes, I basically blew my whole pay cheque on them. That’s why almost all the recommendations in this list are free.  


How to hear more from the best question-asker of the festival…

When Festival goer Huna Amweero asked the last question of the evening at Elaine Welteroth’s Teen Vogue talk ("How do you keep fighting in an industry that can frequently be deaf and blind to the experiences of people of colour?"), she elicited a cheer as loud as the applause for Elaine herself. After the talk, two editors chased her down on the street to ask her if she’d be interested in writing for them (confession: one of them was me). The good news is, Huna has just launched a podcast, and on the first episode talks to Evelyn Araluen about the Festival. Like it on Facebook and listen at leisure.  


How to make a statement with your outfit…

Speaking of Elaine Welteroth, it should go almost without saying she was the festival’s best dressed guest. On Saturday and Sunday, she wore custom made Prabal Gurung protest tees — one, in honour of that Teen Vogue article implored us to ‘Resist the gaslight’; the other featured a new rallying cry for many American feminists: ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’. And because this is Elaine, she paired those t-shirts with textural midi-length pencil skirts and gleaming white sneakers.  


A blueprint for funnelling creative success into activism…

Sebastian Smee spoke about a lot of great works in Do Bad Times Make for Great Art? But it was Mark Bradford’s that stood out. His art is abstract, but his considerable financial success is being used into something very concrete, including an organisation that supports kids transitioning out of foster care.  


How to teach your kids about ethics…

When I tell you to show a young person in your life Short and Curly, just trust, okay? This ABC podcast produced by Kyla Slaven is destined for big things. They’ve already got one season under their belt, and the issues are thorny. Start with the episode ‘Should pugs exist?’  


Where to discover a critic whose brilliance was in sync with the times…

“The criticism that bothers me most is the critic that is gifted enough rhetorically to pretend there's an interesting narrative.” When Stephen Metcalf said this at Do Bad Times Make for Great Art? he was not talking about Pauline Kael. The New Yorker film critic is the opposite, someone whose sensibilities mapped perfectly with a real phenomenon: the gritty, violent cinema we usually associate with the 1970s. Go back and read her reviews — perhaps as a supplement to your next viewing of Last Tango in Paris.  


How to seem polite on a panel…

Sitting in front of an audience and talking is a nightmare for many. But even more nightmarish is sitting in front of an audience and not talking. What do you do when you’re on stage and someone else has the mic? In the greenroom after a talk, Rupi Kaur taught me her simple formula: smile and nod. Do it till your face hurts and your neck strains (like her’s did), and never risk looking bored.  


How to relax like Dana Stevens…  

We all knew Slate’s film critic would end up giving us some great TV watching advice, but the show she recommended at Netflix and Chill was more like a lifestyle choice than a TV experience. It’s called The Joy of Painting and it features a man named Bob Ross with an outrageous perm whispering while he gently dabs a canvas. It was ASMR for a pre-ASMR generation.    


How to stay up to date on niche celebrity gossip…

By listening to Who Weekly, a podcast focusing on minor celebrities that has nothing to do with the Australian magazine of the same name. This recommendation didn’t come from a panel; it was suggested to me at an after-party by The Guardian’s culture editor Steph Harmon.  


What to take from our modern obsession with wellness…

At Get Well Soon (a talk I moderated), Brigid Delaney explained that most of the wellness industry today is a ravenous, profit-driven beast, that may not get you where you want it to take you. An exception to that is meditation. It’s free (or can be), it brings clarity and it makes you feel not just good, but connected.  


What to listen to once you’re done with every episode of My Dad Wrote a Porno

The Jamie Morton-endorsed podcast No Such Thing as A Fish from the research team behind QI.

 

— Alyx Gorman, editorial director of Time Out Sydney


Alyx Gorman is the editorial director of Time Out Sydney, and the fashion editor of the Saturday Paper. Alyx has worked for Elle Magazine, the Mamamia Women's Network, Fairfax Media and Oyster Magazine, and written for The Guardian, Meanjin and i-D.