In August, Magda Szubanski will sit through her own funeral. Well, an imagined version of her funeral. It’s just one of many intriguing events at the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival, with a theme this year of A Matter of Life and Death. The jam-packed – and deliberately unconventional – program features some of today’s best local and international literary talent.
We already knew big American names were on their way, including essayist, journalist and Black Panther comic author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who won America’s prestigious National Book Award for his powerful, game-changing treatise on race and the black experience, Between the World and Me. Journalist Ronan Farrow and New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum, both Pulitzer Prize winners, are also heading to Australia next month.
At the opening-night gala, Andrew W.K., the one and only king of party positivity, will deliver a keynote address. The Party Hard singer's relentless quest for self-realisation will get you on your way to banishing writer's block one fist pump at a time.
Joining them is a slew of A-plus local talent, including Szubanski, Tim Winton, Michelle de Kretser, Irvine Welsh, John Marsden, Judith Lucy and Paul Kelly.
Lucy will interview Winton about his latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut. Kelly will perform songs he’s written to “other people’s words”– that is, poetry by Emily Dickinson, Les Murray and Judith Wright, to name a few.
A series of intimate Book Clubs, hosted by the likes of author and broadcaster John Safran (his session’s on The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty) and de Kretser (she’s looking at The Watchtower by Elizabeth Harrower) have room for just 20 per session.
There are more seats for a conversation remembering Anthony Bourdain, and a live reading by Nobel Prize-winning author JM Coetzee of The Glass Abattoir, a story that explores ideas around animal cruelty.
There’s a significant number of sessions devoted to the human relationship with – and treatment of – animals. In a session called Eating Animals, chef Adam Liaw will debate the owners of vegan restaurant Smith & Daughters, Shannon Martinez and Maureen Wyse, about whether human consumption of animals is a custom on its way out, or a birthright. Pet funeral director Caroline Higgins will run a remembrance ceremony for loved and bygone pets. There are eulogies to species lost, and a vegetarian daughter in conversation with her meat-eating father.
“Our theme, A Matter of Life and Death, is a reflection on the things people reach for in order to survive and those moments where we look to words for comfort,” said the festival’s artistic director Marieke Hardy, in a statement. “It is a celebration of empathy. Yes, life is hard, but we are in it together.”
And Hardy has ensured that among the serious and profound, there is levity and light.
Judith Lucy will take part in a literary therapy session. Comedian and musician Justin Heazlewood will host a mock church service in honour of his childhood self. Comedian Kitty Flanagan’s School For Relationship Break-Up swill go into breaking up, and so much more. Jimmy Barnes will walk Myf Warhurst through the story of his life while spinning the records that defined it. Author Krissy Kneen will join aquatic scientist Sheree Marris to talk about the sex lives of sea creatures.
And award-winning artist Leslie Rice is on hand to ink you – permanently – with a literary tattoo.
Melbourne Writers Festival runs from August 24 to September 2. Tickets go on sale at 9am on July 20.