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April 20, 2021

Writers Fest reveals full program

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2019 Byron Writers Festival author Benjamin Law with festival team members Anika Ebner, Emily Brugman, Eleanor Blackstock, and Adam Van Kempen (festival chair). Photo Jeff Dawson

Byron Writers Festival 2019 (August 2–4) has revealed a program featuring more than 140 Australian and international speakers spanning fiction, memoir, crime, environment, society, politics, poetry, art, comedy, and music.

Festival director Edwina Johnson says, ‘Now more than ever, our world needs writers, environmentalists, poets, commentators, politicians, and artists who together can shape stories of hope, courage, and change.’

Now in its 23rd year, the festival will run 120 sessions over three days at Elements of Byron Resort, as well as writers’ workshops, a program for children, and satellite events in venues across the Northern Rivers region.

International guests

International guests include former anti-mafia prosecutor and one of Italy’s best-selling crime authors Gianrico Carofiglio, PEN international president and Gun Love author Jennifer Clement, former LA Times war correspondent and author of Women’s Work Megan K Stack, New York Times best-selling author of Pachinko Min Jin Lee, and Indian poet, novelist, and dancer Tishani Doshi.

Kurdish-Iranian refugee and award-winning author of No Friend But The Mountains Behrouz Boochani will appear via live stream from Manus Island where he has been detained since 2013.

Revered UK academic and philosopher A C Grayling will deliver the annual Thea Astley Address on The Crisis of Democracy.

UK scientist Julia Shaw will unlock the intricacies of criminal psychology with Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side; US writer and musician Claire L Evans will reveal an untold tale of women who made the internet with Broad Band; and one of the world’s foremost experts on forest fires, Stephen Pyne, will share his vast knowledge of fire and environmental history.

Fiction lineup

The fiction lineup includes celebrated writers Markus Zusak (Bridge of Clay), Gail Jones (The Death of Noah Glass), Toni Jordan (The Fragments), and Jock Serong (Preservation). Additionally, award-winning novelists Melissa Lucashenko (Too Much Lip), Dominic Smith (The Electric Hotel), Tony Birch (The White Girl), and Tara June Winch (The Yield) will speak.

Master crime writer Michael Robotham, and one of Australia’s most successful authors, Di Morrissey, will also feature in conversations with ABC TV’s Jennifer Byrne.

Politics and commentary

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd (The PM Years) headlines the political lineup which includes Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (En Garde), former Greens senator Scott Ludlam, and former leader of the Australian Democrats and founding chair of Our Watch, Natasha Stott Despoja (On Violence).

Writers and commentators Stan Grant (Australia Day and On Identity), Kerry O’Brien (Kerry O’Brien: A Memoir), Peter Greste (The First Casualty), and Leigh Sales (Any Ordinary Day) will unpack the politics of the day as well as discuss their own books.

True stories

Inspiring real-life stories will be told by former World Vision CEO Tim Costello (A Lot with a Little), Roman Quaedvlieg, whose memoir Tour de Force outlines his journey from street cop to Australian Border Force chief, Vicki Laveau-Harvie, whose memoir of a dysfunctional family The Erractics won the 2019 Stella Prize, and Caro Llewellyn will tell her powerful story of a world shattered and a life remade (Diving Into Glass).

Carly Findlay (Say Hello) will challenge assumptions about what it is like to have a visibly different appearance, and Phil Brown (The Kowloon Kid) and Andrew Stafford (Something To Believe In) will reveal how music has shaped their lives.

Award-winning investigative journalists Kate McClymont (Dead Man Walking) and Matthew Condon (The Night Dragon) will tell their tales of betrayal and corruption in the crime underworld. 

Social issues

Clementine Ford (Boys Will Be Boys), Ginger Gorman (Troll Hunting), John Marsden (The Art of Growing Up), Gabbie Stroud (Teacher), David Gillespie (Teen Brain), Ranjana Srivastava (A Better Death), and Benjamin Law (Growing Up Queer in Australia) will lead important conversations about the issues we face in contemporary life.

The ABC’s Richard Fidler and Sarah Kanowski and journalist Tracey Spicer are among the many popular presenters on hand to host inspiring and compelling conversations with festival guests.

Environment and science

Leading writer on climate change, palaeontologist and conservationist Tim Flannery, will discuss the first 100 million years of European history. Bruce Pascoe (Young Dark Emu), Alice Gorman (Dr Space Junk vs The Universe), and filmmaker Damon Gameau (2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration) will consider environmental solutions.

The Gourmet Farmer’s Matthew Evans will bring gastronomic passion and forensic research to the question of how to be an ethical carnivore, while Sophie Cunningham, Harry Sadler, and Lisa-ann Gershwin will talk trees, birds and jellyfish.

At the angular end of the festival, Eddie Woo will crunch numbers with Adam Spencer in a session called Amazing Mathematics.

Art, comedy, TV, and music

Celebrated Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens will join Djanban artist and writer Bronwyn Bancroft to share stories embedded in landscape. Comedians Hung Le (The Crappiest Refugee) and Mandy Nolan (Women Like Us) will ponder whether everything is up for grabs in comedy, and Lambs of God writer Marele Day will trace the book’s journey from the page to a major television series about to screen on Foxtel.

Byron Bay’s love affair with surfing and music combines with bluesman Ash Grunwald discussing his first book Surf by Day, Jam by Night – a collection of candid interviews he did with 15 of the world’s top surfer-musicians including Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore, and Jack Johnson.

On Sunday, audiences will then get to raise their own voices in communal song with Shire Choir, a rousing festival closer.

Kids and families

On Sunday, the Kids Big Day Out program is full of fun and creativity aimed at igniting the imaginations of children and young readers.

On hand to entertain and delight are author and illustrator Alison Lester, Tony Flowers, Morris Gleitzman, John Flanagan, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Zoe and Georgia Norton Lodge, and Isobelle Carmody, among many others.

Satellite events

The festival has also partnered with venues throughout the region to present an exciting range of satellite events, including a literary breakfast with Clementine Ford at Harvest Newrybar, a performance with Ailsa Piper at Lismore Regional Gallery, conversations with Dominic Smith at Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre, Tim Costello at The Byron at Byron, and Matthew Evans at the Beach Hotel, as well as the Byron heat of The Australian Poetry Slam at Byron Library.

Sunday locals tickets

Residents of Byron, Ballina, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley, and Tweed council areas can access special $80 Sunday Locals tickets, supported by Stone & Wood.

Purchasers will need to present proof of address and are limited to a maximum of two tickets per person.

For the full program and tickets visit www.byronwritersfestival.com/festival.


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