Attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival can be a giddy and gleeful experience – especially when hopping from Bays to Tracks venues and back again, oscillating between your favourite authors on stage, world-expanding conversations, powerful stories that unravel the boundaries of imagination and intellectually punctilious discussions that pinpoint our greatest problems. Ideas, stories, memoir and poetry abound.
Here are just some of the special moments – and words – we captured on Saturday.
Melissa Lucashenko, Nardi Simpson, Nayuka Gorrie
In Whose Country Is It Anyway?, three of Australia's brightest, most astute, poetic and powerful writers came together for an unforgettable discussion on Country.
As Guest Curator Nayuka Gorrie opened this session, they noted that, “One of the few escapes I had during lockdown was reading. When I was asked to guest curate the Festival, one of the things I really wanted to talk to Blackfellas about was the craft of writing Country.”
For the next hour, award-winning Bundjalung author Melissa Lucashenko (Too Much Lip) and debut Yuwaalaraay author Nardi Simpson (Song of the Crocodile) discussed how inextricable their lives and writing practices are from Country.
It was clear that each were deep admirers of each other's work. “You writing your work, using your words, is filling me up," said Nardi. While Melissa expressed deep respect for Nardi's Song of the Crocodile, “Nardi has written a profound book...and the readership is not ready for it...read it and make up your own mind.”
As the conversation came to a close, Melissa, Nardi and Nayuka took each other's hands – and a sense of great hope and gratitude leapt from the panel through the audience.
If you’ve yet to read the work of Melissa or Nardi, now’s the time to pick up copies of their books and discover just how fortunate readers are to read Country written with such care.
We must write about life twice as much as we write about death, otherwise we’re just invading ourselves all over again.
Tony Birch, Evelyn Araluen
Tony Birch and Evelyn Araluen held a touching and rousing conversation full of deep respect for one another. “She is a remarkable young writer," said Tony. "And I think that what Evelyn is doing with her poetry and doing with writing in general is being replicated across this nation by young First Nations writers.”
While Tony Birch had a procession of teachers lining up to ask him questions, Evelyn had a particularly special questioner: her dad. He asked Evelyn's thoughts about the role of Aboriginal women in preserving the culture and fighting against enormous odds. “Women are incredibly central in all of these movements and these histories," responded Evelyn. "Every inch taken back leads back somewhere to a Black woman protesting.”
In a delightfully playful moment, when Tony gave strict instructions to questioners on not touching the microphone, Evelyn asked each one to lick the mic before their question.
When novels succeed, they're not content, they're not a mirror, they're actually life itself.
Seeing young adults excitedly scurrying to see their favourite authors gives you a unique sense of optimism that the future of storytelling is well in hand.
At yesterday's All-Day YA extravaganza, YA Gala attendees were on the edges of their seats listening to Jenna Guillaume describe the scene in The NeverEnding Story when Atrayu's horse sinks into quicksand. Jenna cannot cope with animals dying in literature – they are the characters she would protect at all costs.
The white gatekeepers who have shut us out are experiencing a world where they’re being held accountable.
You could immediately feel the love for books and their ability to shepherd readers through pain in this intimate session on navigating grief when you’re young. Youth Curator Neva Mikulic – a Year 11 student – led the discussion with great sensitivity and empathy for readers of YA.
Debut author Cath Moore (Metal Fish, Falling Snow) reminded everyone in the room that with books, you can travel with friends and get a sense of community that isn’t always possible with other mediums.
"I think young people have a curiosity about the world and a defiance that I think slowly gets worn away the older you get," said Cath. "That’s why I love talking to teenagers now – it reminds me that I still have that in me.”
Shelves full of unread books remind you that there are always friends in your house that you’ve yet to meet. And as Cath called it, “It’s a home within a home”.
The Festival was honoured to have Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson beam in for a rigorous and urgent discussion on the endurance of white supremacy and dismantling the corrosive social hierarchies in our world today. On writing the bestselling Caste, Isabel said, “You can’t fix what you can’t see, you can’t repair what you can’t name.”
No adult alive today will be alive at the point when African Americans will have been free as long as African Americans were enslaved.
Mehreen Faruqi, Osman Faruqi
Mother and son powerhouse duo Mehreen Faruqi and Osman Faruqi led a bring-the-house-down, heartwarming discussion on how to best change the world – from inside politics or outside it. And both asked what kind of world they were helping to shape for the future generation.
“Young women, young Muslim women, say they’ve seen no one like them in parliament until I got there, and that makes it a bit easier for them to get there," said Mehreen. "If that’s the only thing I’ve done, that’s a good thing.”
One of those young women was in the audience, and told Mehreen how much she had inspired her. "You go girl," said Mehreen.
"If someone wants to come down and say I'm an inspiration, that would be great," joked Osman.
It’s Osman’s courage to go where I won’t even go and say things that need to be said without fear of consequences...I love you so much for that.
The Space Between Words
“Hello poetry punks,” Toby Schmitz greeted a packed house of poetry-lovers at Sydney Town Hall before commencing an astounding recital of his chosen poem, 'Nefertiti in the Flak Tower' by Clive James.
The poetry gala was a non-stop procession of Australia's brightest actors delivering resounding performances.
Tim Minchin unexpectedly gifted the audience with an original poem that he wrote on the way to Town Hall and, in typical Tim style, was brilliant.
In tribute to poet Kate Jennings, who passed away last night, Michala Banas read Kate's poem ‘Once there was a way to get back home’. It was a moving moment in honour of a legendary writer and pioneering feminist.
The parliaments are overstocked with both male and pale, what’s worse is it’s the direct inverse of who dies in our gaols.
Omar Sakr, Christos Tsiolkas
In Beyond, Fire, Flood & Plague, James Bradley, Omar Sakr, Alison Croggon, Christos Tsiolkas and Santilla Chingaipe reflected on the year that was and the important lessons we must carry into the future.
In a moment that encapsulated the impact writers can have on their readers, an audience member spoke of how Christos' writing was the first that spoke to her experience as a young Greek woman and she saw Omar's writing now achieving the same thing for readers out in the world.
I’ve now lived long enough to know...that hope is not delusional or in vain.
Adam Thompson, Melissa Lucashenko
As Bundjalung author Melissa Lucashenko held up a copy of Pakana writer Adam Thompson’s debut collection of short stories Born Into This, she playfully remarked, “It says here on the front cover that someone called Melissa Lucashenko has called it ‘compelling’.”
It seems this year’s new Festival series, Your Favourites’ Favourites has also become a favourite for Festival attendees too. After all, who better to introduce you to the work of debut authors, than some of our county’s most insightful and incisive readers – and those who’ve already “walked the walk”?
Adam, a recipient of the Next Chapter writers’ scheme at the Wheeler Centre, observed that he’d never had the intention to write a book, but simply appreciated the joy of writing stories. It was only recently he realised he had enough life experience, and things to say, to dedicate himself to the craft of writing.
“When you start to get a little bit of feedback on your work and people say, “Oh, that’s a good yarn!”...it’s kind of intoxicating,” said Adam.
The opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy.
SWF Great Debate
Benjamin Law stripped, Elaine Crombie sang, Annabel Crabb rhymed – what more can we say? You had to be there.
Imagine what we could do, who we could be... If we told people they are great, let them be great. Then maybe, one day we can say this country is great.