The theme for this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival is Within Reach – an ode to hope; to using words to bring us closer to people, locations and ideas that feel further away than ever thanks to our inability to leave the country; and to the diversity of voices and experiences in Australia’s literary scene. What’s unfortunately not within reach, though, is the ability to attend each and every event at this year’s festival: there are more than 230 panels, talks, lectures and more being held over the next week, with some 400 Australian-based speakers and 15 international guests.
The opening-night address will be fronted by Miles Franklin winners Melissa Lucashenko (Too Much Lip) and Tara June Winch (The Yield; Winch will appear from France via video link), as well as poet Evelyn Araluen (Dropbear). Together they’ll interrogate what writing has brought within their reach, writers who paved the way for them and new areas and ideas they’d like to engage with. The festival will conclude with a closing-night address from Australian literary legend David Malouf, who will also interrogate the ideas and possibilities that lie within our reach.
Those four thought leaders bookend a program packed with many more big thinkers and writers, including Australian authors Geraldine Brooks, Trent Dalton, Richard Flanagan, Bruce Pascoe, Peter Carey and Helen Garner. International guests include legendary YA author Judy Blume, Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go author Kazuo Ishiguro and Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani, who was held in Manus Island detention centre for several years.
Even big-name actors are getting in on the action this year: in The Space Between Words, the likes of Michala Banas, Bryan Brown, Tim Minchin, Mia Wasikowska and Yael Stone will each perform a piece they have chosen in relation to the festival theme.
Overwhelmed yet? We’ve put together a list of five events – from the light-hearted to the more in-depth – that will be worth the entry fee (and still have tickets available).
Your Favourites’ Favourites, various dates
Ever wondered what your favourite author reads in their spare time? Your Favourites’ Favourite is a new SWF series in which established writers interview the author of their favourite Australian debut from the past year. Not only will these sessions provide great insight into some of the top new releases from up-and-coming authors, but they’ll also give audiences a glimpse into what the country’s great storytellers reckon make a great story.
Highlights include a discussion between Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser (The Life to Come, Questions of Travel) and Andrew Pippos, the author of Lucky’s, a family epic that traverses decades. There’s also a chat between Nam Le, author of contemporary classic The Boat and Rebecca Giggs, whose non-fiction book Fathoms: the world in a whale uses the majestic marine mammal as a through line to examine environmental chaos, how technology changes our relationship with the natural world and the act of writing about nature during an ecological crisis.
Bruce Pascoe & Vicky Shukuroglou, May 2
Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu) has collaborated with author and photographer Vicky Shukuroglou on Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia, a guidebook to Australia via an Indigenous lens. In this event, they’ll talk with ABC Radio National’s Daniel Browning about the guide, which reflects 65,000 years of Indigenous culture, from the ancient fish traps at Brewarrina in north-west NSW that Pascoe explored in Dark Emu, to the rivers that flow into the Great Barrier Reef.
Why We Love a TV Villain, April 30
If you asked a crowd of Killing Eve fans whether they preferred the show’s hero Eve Polastri, or her psychopathic antagonist Villanelle, there’s a good chance they’d opt for the latter. In this panel, writer and presenter Benjamin Law, screenwriter Kodie Bedford (Mystery Road) and Looking for Alibrandi author Melina Marchetta will be led in a discussion by The Chaser’s Chris Taylor to reveal their top TV baddies – and what makes them so fascinating.
Swan on Swan, April 30
US-based Australian journalist Jonathan Swan became a meme last year after his interview with Donald Trump went viral. The general public later found out he’s the son of ABC health reporter Norman Swan – who himself became something of a sensation early on in the pandemic for his common-sense explanations and warnings of the dangers of Covid-19.
In this event, both Swans (the younger appearing via video stream) are joined by the ABC’s Geraldine Doogue to discuss their careers and whether journalism runs in the Swan family blood.
SWF Debate: How Good is Australia?, May 1
For a long time Aussies have considered themselves residents of The Lucky Country, where we’re afforded endless good fortune, plentiful sun and an equal-opportunity society. But some think that once you scratch a little deeper not everything’s as glossy and great as it seems. These two opposing ideas will be put to the test in this debate, led by singular journalist Jennifer Byrne.
Arguing the affirmative side are actor, singer-songwriter and writer Elaine Crombie; author, essayist and former political speechwriter Don Watson; and writer and broadcaster Benjamin Law. Taking the negative are journalist and broadcaster David Marr; writer and presenter Annabel Crabb; and actor and writer Nakkiah Lui. This one’s bound to get heated.
Sydney Writers’ Festival runs from April 26 to May 2.