After a two year hiatus, the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) finally returns to once again bring us together to talk about books.
From September 8 to 11, MWF will welcome high-profile overseas guests – including Succession star Brian Cox, comedian Jenny Slate and cult novelist Ottessa Moshfegh – alongside homegrown authors like Isobel Beech, Chelsea Watego and Evelyn Araluen.
“[The festival] has a nice mix of local and international talent, and the themes are very topical,” says Joe Rubbo, operations manager at long-running Melbourne bookstore Readings. “It’s about discovering new authors and listening to discussions with authors you love. And just hearing perspectives and ideas that you might not normally think about.”
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Before the event kicks off, we asked Rubbo to highlight six books (and their tie-in event) worth reading in preparation.
Jennifer Down Bodies of Light (2021)
The second novel from Melbourne author Jennifer Down, Bodies of Light recently won the Miles Franklin – arguably the country’s most prestigious literary prize. Down will be appearing at MWF’s opening night event, which unpacks this year’s festival theme of “ambition” and also features Booker Prize finalist Mohsin Hamid and renowned author and professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson. The Age Book of the Year awards for both fiction and non-fiction will also be presented on the night.
“We haven’t had an in-person MWF since 2019, so I expect it to be buzzing as publishers, booksellers, authors and readers gather together for the first time in years,” says Rubbo. “For a young writer, Down shows such maturity in her writing. It’s so well controlled.” And true to the theme, he confirms Bodies of Light is “incredibly ambitious”.
Sarah Moss Ghost Wall (2018)
A slim novel at around 150 pages, Ghost Wall was nevertheless a career-making book for British writer Sarah Moss. A fable-like meditation on the potential brutality of family, it has since been followed by the similarly streamlined novels Summerwater (2020) and lockdown-inspired The Fell (2021). Moss will be appearing at MWF in conversation about the latter book with journalist Kate Evans, who co-hosts ABC Radio National’s weekly show The Bookshelf.
“Sarah Moss deserves a wider readership here in Australia,” says Rubbo. “She is very popular in the UK and has started to get more readers here. Ghost Wall is one of my favourite books in recent years. It’s so strange and amazing. It’s a short novel with so much in it.”
Yassmin Abdel-Magied Talking About a Revolution (2022)
Now based in London, Sudanese-Australian writer and advocate Yassmin Abdel-Magied will appear via live video to speak with editor and human rights campaigner Roj Amedi about her new essay collection, Talking About a Revolution, which spans everything from race and language to the ongoing climate crisis.
“Unfortunately but understandably, we can’t have her here in person,” says Rubbo. “We’ve had events with her in the past at Readings, and her energy and enthusiasm is infectious. She’ll be discussing her fantastic new book, which investigates the complications of race and explores resistance, revolution and transformation. The essays are very conversational and insightful.”
Sarah Winman Still Life (2021)
Actor and author Sarah Winman’s acclaimed fourth novel is a moving tale of love and family. Spanning World War II and beyond, its focus on beauty makes it an ideal talking point in a panel entitled In Pursuit of Beauty, which also features The Slap author Christos Tsiolkas, alongside The Monthly editor Michael Williams.
“She’s been really popular here,” says Rubbo. “I like the idea of this event because after some of the more heavy themes you could encounter at writers festivals, it’s nice to have two authors discuss an aspect of craft that is essential to good fiction. Something that’s a bit lighter and more joyous.”
Akuch Kuol Anyieth Unknown (2022) and Pirooz Jafari Forty Nights (2022)
The traumas of war and migration inform these two recent books by Melbourne-based authors Akuch Kuol Anyieth and Pirooz Jafari, who originally hail from South Sudan and Iran, respectively. They’ll be discussing their work and experiences in an event called Fleeing and Finding Home hosted by journalist and author Sarah Ayoub.
“Both authors have very interesting histories,” says Rubbo. “Pirooz Jafari was a photographer who came here from Iran and has written this beautiful, evocative debut novel. It’s set in Melbourne and deals with issues of refugees and migration. Akuch Kuol Anyieth’s book is more of a memoir. There’s a real synergy between the two books, so pairing them up will make for a fascinating discussion.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Melbourne Writers Festival.