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Your Guide To The Best Writers Festivals On Now (Or Soon)

Whatever your taste, we’ve got you covered

By Victoria Pearson

It’s a great time to be a writer on the Australian publicity circuit, thanks to the long-awaited return of face-to-face events, readings and workshops. Which makes it an equally exciting time to be a reader – particularly in these next few weeks, as the cultural calendar fills out with both regional and metropolitan literary festivals.

In light of the last few years’ lockdowns (and their seemingly endless virtual programs), the curators of 2022’s line-ups have pulled out all the stops. “This is anything but an ordinary year,” says Melbourne Writers Festival’s artistic director Michaela McGuire, with tickets for headline speakers moving quickly. “We’ve been thrilled with the response to international guests like Jarvis Cocker, Jenny Slate, Mohsin Hamid and Brian Cox.”

Here’s your guide to the must-hit upcoming festivals, kicking off this weekend in northern New South Wales. Mark your calendars.

Byron Writers Festival

August 26-28

If al fresco reading, relaxed conversation and a coastal brand of zen is your flavour, Byron Writers Festival is the event for you. Following a two-year hiatus, the three-day live event returns to the lands of the Arakwal Bumberbin of the Bundjalung Nation, and is aptly themed ‘Radical Hope’.

“With such an incredible line-up of our leading storytellers and thinkers, as well as some newer faces, we are set for some very special moments over the Festival weekend,” says the program’s artistic director, Zoë Pollock.

Trent Dalton

Cult favourites such as Trent Dalton (Love Stories), Hannah Kent (Devotion), pictured main, and Julia Baird (Phosphorescence) top the program’s billing, but be sure not to bypass this year’s crop of emerging talent including 2022 Stella Prize recipient Evelyn Araluen (Dropbear), debut novelist Sara El Sayed (Muddy People) and award-winning multi-hyphenate Amani Haydar, whose debut memoir The Mother Wound was awarded the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-fiction.

Melbourne Writers Festival

September 8-11

Missed the thrill of watching big-ticket international names live in conversation? The Melbourne Writers Festival has you covered. This year’s program – a “thrilling exploration of ambition” – features over 270 authors and 150 events scattered across the City of Melbourne and greater Melbourne.

Self-described as ‘Australia’s boldest literary festival’, its star-studded line-up is packed with international guests (many of whom are shared with Sydney’s forthcoming Antidote festival on September 11), including writer, comedian and actor Jenny Slate, Succession’s Brian Cox, Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan (A Visit From the Goon Squad, The Candy House), Ottessa Moshfegh (Lapvona), and music legend Jarvis Cocker. (Run, don’t walk, to secure your seat at those events.)

Ottessa Moshfegh

When it comes to local guests of note, artistic director Michaela McGuire is guided by the program’s First Nations curators, Chelsea Watego and Jazz Money.

“Jazz has programmed an incredible line-up of emerging poets and storytellers including Susie Anderson, Dakota Feirer, Declan Fry, Maya Hodge, Brooke Scobie, Alice Skye with Mykaela Saunders in This Song We Sing,” says McGuire. “Chelsea’s assembled the festival’s first-ever MWF Big Debate, with team captains Jane Caro and Jackie Huggins arguing for and against nihilism as the thing that makes life worth living.

“One event in particular that I always encourage people to check out is the central storytelling night of the festival. Eight incredible writers, emerging and established, each giving their personal or political response to the theme.”

Quantum Words

September 16-18

If your favourite kind of reading exists at the nexus of science, innovation and creativity, or probes life’s big questions, Perth’s Quantum Words is the weekend for you. A unique take on the literary festival format, the three-day affair engages some of the country’s brightest thinkers in lectures and events that cater for adults, schools and children.

“The Quantum Words Festival is designed to bring together people who wouldn’t normally encounter each other, put them on stage and ask them to grapple with some of the biggest questions we face,” explains founder Jane McCredie. “Where else can you hear astronomers, poets, Indigenous knowledge experts, emergency physicians and zoologists talking about everything from the evolution of art to the future of fornication?”

If your favourite kind of reading probes life’s big questions, Perth’s Quantum Words is the weekend for you

Come for esteemed novelists James Bradley (Ghost Species, The Silent Invasion), Jennifer Mills (The Air Ways, Dyschronia) and Michelle Johnston (Dustball, Tiny Uncertain Miracles); stay for neurodivergent nonbinary writer, comedian, journalist, critic and musician, Patrick Marlborough (don’t miss him at Diverse Minds on September 18).

Blue Mountain Writers’ Festival

October 21-23

Prefer your literary weekends to include a dose of introspection, intrigue, or political analysis? The mind-expanding Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival is your ticket there.

Set across three days amid Katoomba’s aptly dramatic terrain, this event features over 70 authors (though not purposely highlighted, the program largely features women-identifying speakers) and takes its cues from its awe-inspiring surrounds.

Billed as a celebration of the country’s unique literary landscape, this intimate festival brings together a satisfying blend of distinguished and emerging writers traversing poetry, crime, feminism, non-fiction, First Nations stories and politics.

Here, you can explore the darkness of outback noir at Getting the Dirt on Crime Fiction with Hayley Scrivenor and Chris Hammer, or the nuances of using personal experience to bring about meaningful change with poet, writer and academic Kate Fagan and Stella-Prize shortlisted writers Anwen Crawford (No Document, Live Through This) and Eunice Andrada (Flood Damages, Take Care).

Berry Writers Festival

October 21-23

Is a boutique experience more your speed (perhaps one that also revels in the historic charms of its host township)? Consider Berry Writers Festival, also occurring in late October, the one to hit.

Featuring a mix of more than 40 well-known and emerging authors – with many local to the area – the three-day program is an invitation to “come together as a celebration of this beautiful village and its deep-rooted engagement with books and writers,” says the festival’s Founder and Artistic Director, Suzanne Burdon.

Tabitha Carvan

For the Festival team, this year is all about the debut, citing Angela O’Keeffe (Night Blue), Tabitha Carvan (This Is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch), Dom Frawley (Malachy), Jacqueline Maley (The Truth About Her) and Jonica Newby (Beyond Climate Grief: a journey of love, snow, fire and an enchanted beer can) as exciting names to catch.



BY Victoria Pearson

Victoria is a freelance journalist and content director based in Sydney

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