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16 May 2023  •  Arts & Lifestyle

Vertigo previews the Sydney Writers' Festival

By Yvonne Hong
Vertigo previews the Sydney Writers' Festival

With the winter break fast approaching, Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023 presents itself as the perfect reprieve from the burden of assignments building up for many of us at the end of this semester. Annually occurring since 1997, the festival has highlighted some of the most impactful thinkers in the culture with the event hosting panels featuring contemporary storytellers from all walks of life.

This year, Sydney Writers’ Festival: Stories For The Future will occur across the week from May 22 to 28, predominantly at Carriageworks but also in the greater Sydney district. A celebration of free thinking and writing, the festival is a pulsepoint of Australian contemporary discourse with talks this year centering around the many cultural milestones upcoming and recently overcome. Namely, the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum in the upcoming months, the past year since the war on Ukraine began, and the three years since the Black Summer Bushfires and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ann Mossop, the Festival’s artistic director, highlights how “this festival has got quite a lot of broad access points for people, whether they're people who have always got their nose in a novel, or people who are just more interested in what's happening.” To many, Sydney Writers’ Festival gives off the impression of being exclusive to writers or those adjacent to the practice. 

But at the end of the day, Sydney Writers’ Festival is more than just a discussion of books and the art of writing. It is an opportunity for people from all industries and walks of life to speak about the topics they became so impassioned over, that they wrote a book about it. 

With that being said, below are some of the events we are most excited about. 

Opening Night Address: How the Past Shapes the Future 

Carriageworks, Bay 17 | Tuesday, May 23; 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM 

This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival opens with a discussion about our past and its impacts on our future. Booker Prize winner, Bernardine Evaristo, author of Girl, Woman, Other amongst other beautiful novels, alongside writer and broadcaster, Benjamin Law, and Miles Franklin Award winner, Alexis Wright, lead the discussion followed by a live performance from acclaimed poet, Madison Godfrey.

Trivia in The Library Bar (free!)

The Library Bar, State Library of NSW | Wednesday, 24 May; 6:00 PM 

Nothing like a good night of drinks, and showing off your random general knowledge to make you feel better about yourself after handing in that final assignment two days late with what can only be described as somewhat APA7 referencing. The Library Bar is located in the heart of the Sydney CBD atop the State Library of New South Wales, providing its patrons with beautiful 360 city views. On Wednesday night, you can expect good drinks and a fun trivia around literary conundrums, Writers’ Festival facts and general knowledge. Prizes up for grabs! 

Toby Walsh on the Artificial in Artificial Intelligence (free!)

Carriageworks, Bay 24 | Thursday, 25 May; 11:00 AM - 11:45 AM 

As part of The Curiosity Lecture series, leading AI expert Toby Walsh discusses artificial intelligence. He explores whether we can trust AI or if it will increasingly deceive us. Drawn from his recent essay in the Griffith Review 80: Creation Stories, Walsh informs the audience of the positive ways in which artificial intelligence can be harnessed. 

In Conversation: Anthony Joseph 

Carriageworks, Track 8 | Friday, 26 May; 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM  

Anthony Joseph is a Trinidadian-British poet, novelist and musician and was recently awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2022 for Sonnets for Albert. The series of elegies was dedicated to his largely absent father and explores Caribbean masculinity and loss and longing. In this talk with Felicity Plunkett, we hear from Anthony about his practice, across five poetry collections and three novels. 

Stan Grant: The Queen is Dead 

Carriageworks, Bay 20, The ARA Stage | Friday, May 26; 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM 

PHIVE, Parramatta | Saturday, May 27; 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM 

With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, leading journalist Stan Grant discusses insights from his new book The Queen is Dead, within which he constructs an important argument around the colonial roots of Australia, the necessity for an end to monarchy in Australia, our country as a republic and reconciliation with the Indigenous People of this land. 

The Dinner That Changed My Life 

Sydney Town Hall | Saturday, 27 May; 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM  

Food is at the centre of our lives. In this talk, esteemed presenters Annabel Crabb and Adam Liaw interview a handful of cooks, writers and storytellers about dining experiences that shaped their destiny – be it successful or unsuccessful. 

The Blackfulla Books That Made Us: The Art of Seeding Sovereignty in First Nations Storytelling (free!)

Carriageworks, Bay 24 | Saturday, May 27; 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM 

In this special panel event, First Nations writers and thinkers draw from a rich tradition of oral and written knowledge-sharing to celebrate the power of Indigenous storytelling. They consider its role in articulating and advancing notions of sovereignty, and share the stories that have shaped them. Gomeroi author Amy Thunig (Tell Me Again: a Memoir) and Bundjalung and Widubul-Wiabul author Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts (Long Yarn Short: We are Still Here, to be published in 2024) speak with Gumbaynggirr and Barkindji writer and Blackfulla Bookclub founder Merinda Dutton.

State of the Art 

Carriageworks, Bay 17 | Saturday, May 27; 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM  

A discussion on the state of novel writing in this contemporary time. With the introduction of AI, Eleanor Catton, Richard Flanagan, Tracey Lien and Colson Whitehead discuss where writing is headed in the age of technology and what possibilities are on the horizon. 

The Arc of Racism in Australia 

Carriageworks, Track 8 | Saturday, May 27; 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM  

White Nation by Ghassan Hage, a seminal study on racism in Australia, was published 25 years ago. Since then, pivotal conversations around race have been sparked through key cultural events like the Cronulla Riots, the Christchurch massacre and the Black Lives Matter movement most recently. At this event, we hear from writers and thinkers on the evolution of racism and white privilege and the transformation of these frameworks, 25 years after the fact. They also explore this within the context of the upcoming referendum on the First Nations Voice to Parliament. This conversation is joined by anthropologist and academic Ghassan Hage, Palestinian-Egyptian author and academic Randa Abdel-Fattah, The Sydney Morning Herald culture editor Osman Faruqi and Gomeroi academic and author Amy Thunig alongside Andonis Piperoglou. 

Real Selves 

Carriageworks, Bay 17 | Saturday, May 27; 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM  

Real selves interviews a new generation of young women who are at the forefront of the feminist discourse; exploring empowerment through the lens of honesty by breaking down barriers for women and girls. This panel, comprising of Hearbreak High actress and disability awareness advocate Chloé Hayden; Wadjanbarra Yidinji, Jirrbal and African-American filmmaker and Gigorou author Sasha Kutabah Sarago; and activist for sexual assault survivors and The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner author Grace Tame explore their work in breaking such barriers in conversation with disability and women’s rights advocate Hannah Diviney. 

Reckoning, Not Reconciliation 

Carriageworks, Bay 17 | Sunday, May 28; 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM  

Within the context of the First Nations Voice to Parliament referendum, Wiradjuri man Stan Grant and Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman Teela Reid ask whether we are entering a new era for Australian democracy. Are we ready to speak and hear the truth about history as we move into the future? The two panellists discuss the place of First Nations people and what this means in Australia and the work still needing to be done around Reconciliation. 

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