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Sydney Writers' Festival 2017 highlights

What not to miss at the annual week-long celebration of literature and ideas.

By Jessica Wilkinson
Published: 4 April, 2017

“Throughout my life books have been my best friends. In bookstores and with books I have been able to forget the cruelties of the world. I have been able to shield myself when I needed safety. I have been able to find solace and joy. I have been able to find sanctuary – a consecrated place, a place of refuge and protection.” — Roxane Gay

The 20th Sydney Writers’ Festival, under new Artistic Director Michaela McGuire is based on the theme ‘refuge’. Woven through the narrative of the festival is the idea that reading can be a mixed blessing — headlines recently have felt like a long fever dream, the world askew. Tuning into the idea of spinning a negative into a positive and turning to literature as a place of refuge, the festival has curated some of the world’s most curious and compassionate, intelligent and argumentative writers. Leading a week-long conversation, these writers will be offering up their brilliant works as temporary respite for those seeking shelter from the storm. 

Opening Night

Anne Enright, Sydney Writers' Festival, Sydney, New South Wales

To open the festival, three of the world’s most celebrated literary figures will each deliver an address on the theme of refuge. 

Brit Bennett

Making a dazzling debut with her first novel The Mothers, Brit Bennett is an exciting new voice on the literary circuit. Described as urgent and provocative, Bennett has written a luminous and wise story of young love and friendship and living up to expectation in contemporary black America.

Anne Enright

Funny, bleak and unsentimental, Anne Enright approaches her latest novel, The Green Road, with the same tone she’s become famous for. Examining the complexities of family life and family happiness, The Green Road looks at the dispersal and reunion of a family with a robust, thorny matriarch at the centre.  

George Saunders

Considered a writer for our time, George Saunders, having long been accepted as one of the masters of the American short story, makes his first visit to Australia with his incendiary first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

When: 23 May, 6.30PM



Swearing In: Veep’s Armando Iannucci on Spin and Satire

Armando Iannucci, Sydney Writers' Festival, Sydney, New South Wales

An early festival treat, satirist and political commentator Armando Iannucci kicks off the festival in early May, discussing the distorting effects of power.

If you’re a fan of the political satires, The Thick of It and Veep, Iannucci will need no introduction. Iannucci’s resume reads satirist, showrunner, writer, television director and radio producer. As the creator of the aforementioned cult classics The Thick of ItVeep as well as In the Loop and The Day Today, Iannucci has delivered funny yet scathing portraits of the political and media classes with biting venom and brilliant wit. 

Making his only Sydney appearance at SWF, the man who has taken political satire into a new direction talks to Benjamin Law about comedy, politics and ‘Continuity with Change’.

When: 2 May, 6PM *note: the rest of the festival program doesn’t begin until May 22



Jamie Morton: My Dad Wrote a Porno

Jamie Morton, Sydney Writers' Festival, Sydney, New South Wales

Check your inhibitions at the door, please. Jamie Morton of My Dad Wrote a Porno fame is bringing a little bit of Belinda Blinked to life for the Sydney Writer’s Festival as he talks about the infamous podcast with Australian comedian Ben Jenkins.

For the devoted “Berlinkers” out there, no more needs to be said. For those who haven’t yet dipped their toe into the somewhat erotically dubious waters of the Belinda Blinked world, here is what you’re missing: In his retirement, Morton’s dad who goes by the non-deplume Rocky Flintstone decided to write an erotic novel titled Belinda Blinked; 1 A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels.

Each week Morton with his two friends; Alice Levine, a presenter at Radio 1, and James Cooper, who, like Morton, writes and directs videos for a living, read a chapter from Belinda Blinked.  If you couldn’t guess from the title of the novel, Flintstone writes with a certain reckless abandon that proves to be more than enjoyable as each chapter is met with an entertaining mix of horror and hilarity by the trio. The podcast is a global hit that has been downloaded more than 50 million times – that’s 50 million people who have been forced to stifle real life “LOLs” on public transport as they listen.

The SWF appearance will be followed in August by a performance of the My Dad Wrote a Porno stage show at the Sydney Opera House.

When: 27 May, 8.30PM



Roxane Gay: Difficult Women 

Roxane Gay, Sydney Writers' Festival, Sydney, New South Wales

Roxane Gay is a pinnacle of 21st-century intersectional feminism, the kind that will wear a stiletto but hunt you down with it if you turn it into anything other than what it is; a shoe. Intolerant of societal pressure on women and the way they’re objectified, pigeonholed and abused, Gay turns the tide in her latest literary work Difficult Women. The book is a collection of stories, rare in force and beauty, that tell the tales of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

For her appearance at SWF, Gay joins Durga Chew-Bose for a conversation about what constitutes a difficult woman, what inspires the darkness in her work and the strange detours that riddle her imaginary landscapes. Amid the current political and social turmoil, Gay's deadeye wit and immeasurable courage may be what we need.

When: 26 May, 8.30PM



Australian Writers

Sydney Writers' Festival main stage, Sydney, New South Wales

Sydney Writers’ Festival continues to champion the very best of Australian writing with over 400 local writers and facilitators attending including:

Highlighted fiction authors

Peter Corris: Win Lose or Draw
Ali Coby Eckermann: Windham-Campbell Poetry Prize 2016 winner
Candice Fox: Crimson Lake
Meg and Tom Keneally: The Unmourned Book Two: the Monsarrat Series
Melina Marchetta: Tell The Truth, Shame the Devil
Liane Moriarty: Truly Madly Guilty
A.S. Patric: Black Rock White City
Liam Pieper: The Toy Maker
Michael Sala: The Restorer
Graeme Simsion: The Best of Adam Sharp
Tara June Winch: After the Carnage

Highlighted non-fiction authors

Amal Awad: Beyond Veiled Clichés
Julia Baird: Victoria
Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy
Bernadette Brennan: A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work
Saroo Brierley: A Long Way Home (book adapted into the film Lion)
Susan Carland: Fighting Hislam
Jenevieve Chang: The Good Girl of Chinatown
Maxine Beneba Clarke: The Hate Race
Tim Costello: Faith: Embracing Life in All its Uncertainty
Robert Dessaix: The Pleasures of Leisure
Mia Freedman: Work Strife Balance
Nikki Gemmell: After
Stan Grant: Talking to My Country
Rebecca Huntley: Still Lucky
Hugh Mackay: Selling The Dream
Frank Moorhouse: Australia Under Surveillance
John Safran: Depends What You Mean by Extremist
Tracey Spicer: The Good Girl Stripped Bare