Steve Grimwade‘s final chapter as Director of the Melbourne Writers Festival further explores the relevancy of text in its many forms, beyond just the page – as well as its seminal role in reflecting the status of a global society and its inhabitants - with an evocative call to 'Enquire Within'.
Assisting Grimwade in this task is a veritable rollcall of 400 local and international guests and over 350 events across 11 days, including Keynote Speaker – acclaimed writer, director and performer Simon Callow [UK] – and a bumper line-up of sessions featuring key staffers from the iconic The New Yorker magazine, and the return of the New News conference exploring the topical state of journalism.
Grimwade’s farewell program includes international guests Richard Holloway (UK), Kwame Anthony Appiah (USA), Andrew Motion (UK), David Vann (USA), Eowyn Ivey (USA), Chris Cleave (UK), Antony Beevor (UK), John Boyne (Ireland), Åsa Larsson (Sweden), John Lanchester (UK), Joumana Haddad (Lebanon), Uzodinma Iweala (Nigeria) and Martha Nussbaum (USA), among many others.
Homegrown heavyweights include Germaine Greer, Steve Bracks, Robert Dessaix, Geoffrey Blainey, Guy Grossi, Margaret Simons, Maxine McKew, Peter Doherty, Stephanie Alexander, Thomas Keneally, Chloe Hooper, Stephanie Laurens, Gillian Mears and Tony Bilson, to name a few.
“Melbourne Writers Festival is a home for stories and storytellers, for writers and readers: a destination for the curious-minded,” says Festival Director/CEO, Steve Grimwade. “This Festival is about questioning our place in the world, as men and women; as lovers, friends and partners; as workers and as global citizens.”
Setting the tone is this year’s opening Keynote Address, Simon Callow: Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, to be presented in Melbourne and Ballarat on Thursday 23 August and Saturday 24 August respectively. Simon Callow will draw from the passion and research of his latest biography on Dickens, coinciding with the bicentenary of this legendary author’s birth. Germaine Greer: Speaking Australian sees one of our most provocative thinkers contemplate the vagaries of an Australian language, and Robert Dessaix: The Time of Our Lives considers the particular pleasures of aging, even in a society infatuated with youth.
The New Yorker marks a literary coup for Melbourne Writers Festival with an all-star team from the internationally revered magazine, The New Yorker, bringing Manhattan to Melbourne. Home to some of the world’s finest journalists, authors and cartoonists for almost a century, the magazine takes centre stage in a program including the Keynote Event: An Evening with The New Yorker on Friday 24 August, as well as a series of a further seven events and a business lunch at Eureka 89. The line-up comprises editorial director Henry Finder, eminent art critic Peter Schjeldahl, staff writer (author of The Lost City of Z) David Grann, pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones and cartoonist Roz Chast.
The Festival’s favourite Big Ideas series of intellectuals, change-makers and trendsetters in thought-provoking discussion and debate, incorporates internationally renowned philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (USA) exploring the relationship between literature and global citizenship; Marcia Langton (Aus) proposing a solution to the dilemma of a referendum; Arab Spring twitter journalist Andy Carvin (USA) featuring in a free session on telling the world’s stories; moral philosopher Martha Nussbaum (USA) examining cultural pluralism in a time of fear; British author Antony Beevor (UK) challenging historic views on The Second World War; and the former US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk (USA), weighing up the past and future of President Obama’s foreign policy.
The final Big Ideas session is also a keynote event for the New News Conference, which fuels the debate about what journalists do and why it matters to the public. New News: Gotcha! A Hypothetical in Three Acts on Friday 24 August – hosted by Peter Clarke – brings together panellists Gay Alcorn, Nick McKenzie, Andrew Crook, Neil Mitchell, Justin Quill and Kathy Bowlen to reveal the truth about today’s newsrooms. Also taking part in a series of ticketed and free New News events are leading Australian journalists, editors and commentators Bronwen Clune, David Higgins, Hal Crawford, Matthew Pinkney, Margaret Simons, Chris Uhlmann, Tim Dunlop, Melissa Fyfe, Louise Adler, Denis Muller, Derryn Hinch, Adrian Lowe, Tim van Gelder, Julian Disney, Matthew Ricketson and Alan Sunderland.
The imaginations of fiction writers continue to be a central focus of the Festival with master wordsmiths such as former UK Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Australian legend Thomas Keneally, the London Review of Book’s polymath John Lanchester and Gerald Murnane (Aus). Feature sessions also include Patrick Gale (UK), Chris Cleave (UK), David Vann (USA), Emily Perkins (NZ), Sefi Atta (Nigeria), Uzodinma Iweala (Nigeria) and local luminaries Drusilla Modjeska, Susan Johnson, Elliot Perlman, Rodney Hall, Chloe Hooper, Gillian Mears and Charlotte Wood.
The cream of crime writing will be represented by Åsa Larsson (Sweden), Michael Robotham (Aus), Rochelle Jackson (Aus), Honey Brown (Aus) and Michael Duffy (Aus); and the Festival gets to the heart of romance writing with bestsellers Stephanie Laurens (AUS) and Rachael Treasure (Aus).
The Festival celebrates national classics, including a feature event on Patrick White’s extraordinary legacy, and welcomes regional neighbours Uday Prakash, Sharankumar Limbale, C.K. Lakshmi and Mita Kapur, who will be representing the breadth of Indian letters.
Politics, science, current affairs and sport get dissected with some of the most brilliant minds taking the temperature of the world around us. International guests, like Lebanese feminist Joumana Haddad, look at the hatred directed towards Arab women from within Arab countries as well as the West; former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway talks about his chosen path away from the church, and questions its future with Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey; Beijing correspondent Barbara Demick (USA) gives her perspective on covering some of the world’s trouble spots; Australian Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty reveals how studying birds might help us avert catastrophic environmental disaster; and Australia’s longest-serving Labor premier Steve Bracks discusses the Labor Party’s struggles in national politics.
In The Great Football Debate, historian Joy Damousi, Catholic priest Father Kevin Dillon, writer John Harms, Anglican bishop Philip Huggins, writer and broadcaster Angela Pippos and Coodabeen champion Jeff Richardson take sides for a passionate debate that hopes to answer whether football is a cult, lifestyle or simply a sport.
The globe’s leading literary journal of ‘nonfiction prose’, Creative Nonfiction, takes centre stage with its founder and editor, Lee Gutkind (USA), conducting a series of panels, seminars and masterclasses, as well as launching the first Australian-themed issue of this legendary journal in a free event.
Named by Utne Reader alongside the likes of Noam Chomsky and Vaclav Havel as one of the 100 visionaries who would change your life, philosophical travel writer Pico Iyer (UK) goes In Conversation with Benjamin Law (Aus) and Robert Dessaix (Aus), to share his Graham Green-inspired journeying.
When it comes to combining food, wine and literature, the Festival embraces everything from Indigenous-Calabrian themed dinners with Riccardo Momesso (Aus) and Aunty Carolyn Briggs (Aus); to the sensual cuisine and culture of Bali with Inez Baranay (Aus), Ruby J. Murray (Aus) and Janet de Neefe (Indonesia); to discussions on the global economy with John Ralston Saul (Canada) and Adele Ferguson (Aus); to the return of the very popular Sofitel Salon afternoon teas with John Lanchester (UK), Patrick Gale (UK) and Eowyn Ivey (USA).
Prose and performance come together in an exhilarating program of live events, including The Radio Hour to be recorded for ABC Radio National’s 360 documentaries. Telling stories on the theme ‘Do You Read Me?’ are Pico Iyer (UK), Chloe Hooper (Aus), Jon Tjhia (Aus) and Jessie Borrelle (Aus), Natalie Kestecher (Aus) and Rachel Maher (Aus) in a radio documentary like you’ve never seen before – hosted by Jaye Kranz (Aus) and with accompaniment by local musicians James Cecil, Shane O’Mara and Dan Marsh.
Collider: Solo in Red is an awe-inspiring fusion of text, music and images by Melbourne composer Kynan Robinson as drawn from the unmistakeable writing of Cormac McCarthy, and performed by renowned sextet Collider.
Returning for this year’s Festival is the spectacular Friday Night Live Letterman-meets-Jon-Stewart late night talk show, with Libby Gorr (Aus) as host joined by a number of Festival special guests such as provocateur Germaine Greer (Aus), comedian/author Mark Watson (UK), science writer Margaret Wertheim (Aus), comedian Lawrence Leung, house band Tek Tek and live music from Maria Minerva (UK).
Also returning is the popular Liner Notes, where a classic album gets paid poetic tribute in verse, song by song. This year, that album is David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust on its 40th anniversary with Tim Flannery, Deborah Conway, Joumana Haddad (Lebanon), Benjamin Law and First Dog on the Moon, with Emilie Zoey Baker, Sean M. Whelan, Omar Musa, Yana Alana, Ben Pobjie and Alicia Sometimes, led by MC Michael Nolan and the house band.
Through Deaf Eyes is a unique performance featuring deaf writers telling their stories in Auslan. Developed and directed by the deaf community, this groundbreaking work turns the tables and challenges conventions as Auslan interpreters translate beautifully expressive language back to the audience. This event will be followed by a discussion with the cast – creative team Jo Dunbar and Medina Sumovic, and workshop facilitator Arnold Zable.
Children and families are welcomed into the Festival fold with a series of events highlighting the talents of author, puppeteer and performer Asphyxia (Aus), author/illustrator Elizabeth Honey (Aus), Anna Walker (Aus) and Leigh Hobbs (Aus), fantasy fiction writer Michael Pryor (Aus), writer H.J. Harper (Aus), illustrator Sue deGennaro (Aus) and the world’s foremost expert on speaking wombat, Jackie French (Aus).
Young readers and their families are also encouraged to celebrate National Reading Hour with a free, fast-moving 60 minutes of literary entertainment at 5pm on Saturday 25 August, with hosts Amberley Lobo and Kayne Tremills (ABC3 TV presenters), as well as Felice Arena, John Boyne (IRE), Bernard Caleo, Jackie French, Andy Griffiths and Melbourne Ukulele Kollective.
The Festival takes pride in revealing the lesser-known aspects of Melbourne through an elucidating program of Walking Tours. Discover everything from Melbourne’s hidden dragons, bohemian influences, eclectic bookstores, street art and natural origins – but make sure you strap on your most sensible walking shoes.
A program of free events ensures everybody has the opportunity to participate in the Festival. This year, the main free events include National Reading Hour, Illustrators in Residence, Big Ideas: Telling the World’s Stories and a varied selection of New News events, as well as many others.
As part of the Melbourne Writers Festival’s unerring commitment to furthering this city’s literary might and reputation, Professional Development Seminars and Workshops form an integral part of the Festival framework. This year’s extensive program includes the processes behind editing, general fiction writing, creative nonfiction, genre fiction, graphic novels, historical fiction, children and young adults, memoirs, crime and novel writing.