If nothing else, living in tumultuous times makes for great discussions about writing and ideas. When curating a festival of writing, inspiration is everywhere, and in her first year as CEO, Zoe Pollock is determined to make sure Brisbane Writers Festival acknowledges the extraordinary era we live in.
This year, the festival is doing this by looking at how real-world events impact on the worlds built by writers. “We looked at the idea that authors really curate the worlds that they write. In essence, what you read then curates your own world view,” Pollock says.
“We were looking at the notion that what the person sitting next to you is reading is often completely different to what you’re reading. When we saw what happened with the US election, that was particularly stark.”
This year marks the festival’s 55th anniversary, and will bring together more than 100 authors from across Australia and the world. Here are Pollock’s top picks from the program.
Inspired by the character Angel Day from Indigenous author Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, this is an immersive experience involving music, storytelling and talks.
“Carpenteria is a book that was launched at BWF 10 years ago. Alexis Wright is a Waanji woman from the Gulf of Carpentaria and that book won the Miles Franklin in that year. We created a world that you could walk into that’s inspired by a novel. We’ve commissioned Gordon Hookey, who’s an Aboriginal artist and who’s also of the Waanji nation, to create this amazing painting, which we’ve blown up and printed onto the canvas of a 15-metre diameter dome … It’s a completely immersive literary experience, basically, but a very artistic one.”
Adrian Levy, author of The Exile
“Adrian Levy, a UK-based journalist, basically got inside the Al Qaeda extended family network. What’s really interesting is that most of those people had absolutely no idea that September 11 was going to happen, but when it did happen, they all had targets on their heads for 10 years. One of the things we really wanted to explore [as part of the festival] was how writers create knowledge and how important it is for journalists, and particularly investigative journalists like Levy, to have the resources and the time to actually explore those stories from other angles.”
“[This session] features three Brisbane authors and their writing about Brisbane. I’m not actually from Brisbane, so I really enjoyed reading their works because it helped me to understand this city better. One is Ashley Hay and her new book A Hundred Small Lessons. There’s emerging author Ben Hobson [and his book] To Become a Whale, which looks at fatherhood, relationships between father and sons, as well as grief. [And] Venero Armanno, whose new book is Burning Down.”
Catherine Lacey, author of The Answers
“She’s quite a prolific young novelist; she was just listed in Granta’s 40 under 40 to watch. This list comes out once a decade and it has predicted Salman Rushdie and Ian Rankin. Lacey’s book, The Answers, is an amazing satirical treatment of the world of online dating, a real exploration of how women feel expectations to fulfil certain roles and personas within our digital world.”
Top Shelf Bar and Cafe
“Top Shelf is a new pop-up bar at the festival, presented by Charming Squire. There’s up-late sessions for free in the bar. Friday night is going to be Yarn Storytelling [where guests tell true stories live on stage]. Saturday night is Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary, which will see guests dress up in gloriously outlandish costumes and share stories that are so over-the-top they’re good.”
Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians
“Crazy Rich Asians was the first book in [Kwan’s] trilogy and the third book, Rich People Problems, is out now. Crazy Rich Asians is currently being made into a film. They’re just hilarious books … they really do tap into something quite important to note and it’s very much about Asian millionaires and billionaires who have access to all these amazing spaces but obviously they still have problems as well. We’re really excited to have him coming out.”
Brisbane Writers Festival is on September 6–10 at the State Library of Queensland.