“It’s lucky number seven,” says Laura Kroetsch, director of Adelaide Writers’ Week. After seven years, she’s leaving to work on Tasmania’s Dark Mofo. For her final year, Kroetsch has pulled together a stellar line-up of writers to achieve a simple goal. “I wanted it to be a great festival of literature and writing,” she says.
“Writers’ Week is unique because everybody gets a big audience. This is one of those festivals where you get a taste of really famous people like Barbara Kingsolver – get in early, that’s going to be epic – but you’re also going to make a lot of great discoveries.”
The 2018 program reflects a theme of change. “There are a lot of books about environmental issues, global warming and politics, but also personal and societal changes,” says Kroetsch. “There does seem to be a lot about how the world is changing, and how we are changing.
“The best thing about any writers’ festival is that it is live. I listen to podcasts, but what I like is that we all sit together. People react to each other… I think that it’s a community of readers. I like that people have conversations in the coffee line and talk about what they are going to see. There is no substitute for live.”
This year, the festival will be live-streamed into schools, libraries and retirement villages. “If people have ability issues, we know it can be hard to get here,” says Kroetsch. “It’s a real thrill to do a live streaming.”
Here are her picks of the program:
Australian Sofie Laguna writes for children and adults. Her second adult novel The Eye of the Sheep won the 2015 Miles Franklin Award. She recently released her third novel The Choke, a story of friendship and sanctuary set on the banks of the Murray River. “One of the things that’s really interesting is the way she writes from a child’s point of view,” says Kroetsch. “No-one in Australia is taking on [the issue of] class quite in the way she does.” Laguna will join Anna George in conversation on class, violence and hope.
“Teju Cole is a renaissance man,” says Kroetsch. “Many people may not know that in addition to being an essayist and novelist, he’s also a professional photographer.” Cole is writer in residence at Bard College and photography critic at the New York Times. “The thing about Teju Cole is that he’s this extraordinary writer, super political, and an eloquent speaker,” says Kroetsch. Over two sessions, Cole will present his new work Blind Spot, a fusion of photography and commentary. On day two, he’ll join writer and theologian Sarah Sentilles in a conversation on words and images.
“One of the writers I would encourage people to discover is Thomas Mullen,” says Kroetsch. “His two most recent novels are set in Atlanta during Jim Crow, and they tell the story of two black police officers on the force.” Mullen’s acclaimed novel Darktown was picked up by Sony Pictures in 2016 to be developed for television by Jamie Foxx. Now, Mullen is touring its sequel, Lightning Men. “The racism is confronting, but the story is absolutely fantastic,” says Kroetsch.
“I’m always criticised for not having enough crime. I think crime people would have the whole festival be crime,” laughs Kroetsch. Canadian novelist Louise Penny is “the superstar” of the festival. But for Kroetsch, the beauty of Writers’ Week is the real-life presence of a creative mind. “The books are terrific and she is terrific, really good fun, and well worth coming along to see.” Penny has won almost every award in existence for crime writing, and her new novel Glass Houses has been equally popular, earning her the title of number one New York Times bestselling author in 2017.
“It is utterly unputdownable, absolutely one of the best new novels I have read this year,” says Kroetsch of Schmidt’s debut novel See What I Have Done. Set in Massachusetts in 1892, the book retells the story of Lizzie Borden, famously accused of murdering her father and stepmother. Schmidt will join Thomas Mullen in conversation on crime, politics and the reinvention of historical events.
Adelaide Writers Week 2018 runs March 3–9. The full program is available online.