A ten-day celebration of books, poetry, writing, drawing, journalism, film-making and everything in between
When you’ve got Australian literary giant Helen Garner delivering the opening address and McSweeney’s prodigy Dave Eggers wrapping things up with the closing speech, you can be pretty sure that the 29th Melbourne Writers Festival is going to be rather special.
Some of the big-hitters – including Sir Salman Rushdie, and YouTube-famous astronaut Chris Hadfield – were announced earlier this month. The rest have just been released, and there’s over 400 authors participating in the ten-day program.
Taking the reins for the second year, Festival Director Lisa Dempster has put together a literary lineup that’s diverse, contemporary and international. Masha Gessen, author of 2014 biography Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot will discuss the book and her own LGBT activism. Meg Wolitzer, American author of recent bestselling novel The Interesting will discuss the difficulties women face when writing about family and marriage, while Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo will talk about her coming of age debut novel We Need New Names – the first novel by a black African woman to make the Man Booker Prize shortlist.
Of course, the program is also packed with local talent. Hannah Kent, author of hugely popular 2013 novel Burial Rites will speak about crafting her Icelandic tragedy, and well-loved Obernewtyn fantasy author Isobelle Carmody will inspire kids and adults.
If fiction doesn’t do it for you, then there are plenty of other luminaries from the world of journalism, politics, blogs, music and art. Bob Carr and Malcolm Fraser are in conversation, discussing Australia's role between the superpowers of the United States and China. Hear from award-winning foreign correspondent Luke Harding, as well as Maria Popova, creator of massively popular blog Brain Pickings. Get to know the Bard with a rock tribute to Shakespeare, watch provocative same-sex interviews and performances at Benjamin Law's Queer Literary Salon, learn about the highs and lows of being an artist with a performance from Funemployed author Justin Heazlewood – aka The Bedroom Philosopher, or catch an insight into the genius of Nick Cave in the unveiling of Bleddyn Butcher's book of photographs. If you're hooked on the small screen and want to write about it, enrol in a seminar by Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker’s whip-smart TV critic.
Melbourne is a UNESCO City of Literature, so it's fitting that the festival will spill out of CBD venues and onto the streets. Specially designed app Twists and Turns uses geo-location technology to let you become the protagonist of your own story, leading you through the city to discover some unexpected tales. For a more social experience, join the 96 tram Lit Hop and let a tour guide take you to book readings, debates, trivia and even literary karaoke – whatever that might be.
If you’re wondering how the heck you’re going to whittle down 400 events into a workable schedule (yep, us too), then start by using the MWF website’s handy planner. You could even apply to be a volunteer, which could mean free sessions, and the chance to make some new bookish buddies.