American National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon gave the 2014 Opening Address. His latest book, Far From the Tree, tells the stories of hundreds of families affected by disability and difference, making the case that it’s diversity that unites us.
Internationally acclaimed author Alice Walker appeared at the Sydney Opera House. The first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize with The Color Purple, Alice is also a committed activist and believes that developing compassion is a critical task each one of us must undertake. She was joined on stage by one of her favourite musicians, Archie Roach, for an evening celebrating the range and scope of her work. Alice also spoke with Miles Franklin Award-winning author Alexis Wright at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres.
More than 20 years after his cult classic, Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh came to Sydney with The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. Russian immigrant turned US literary celebrity Gary Shteyngart reminisced about his life in Little Failure, Amy Tan brought a sweeping tale of love and family in The Valley of Amazement, and British comedian Sandi Toksvig mused over modern manners in Peas & Queues. Sandi performed My Valentine, her hilarious one-woman show at City Recital Hall.
From France, we welcomed Jacques Roubaud, who has had a long, illustrious writing career and opens up about the Oulipo, his intriguing literary group whose past members include luminaries Georges Perec and Italo Calvino.
The two-day Curiosity Lecture Series featured lectures on subjects from cooking to love, Epicurus to Gandhi. There was also a Literary Friendship Series, with intimate conversations between writers such as Michelle de Kretser and Robert Dessaix, and daily lectures on the craft of writing.
The world’s major award winners joined us to share some of the best writing today. A.M. Homes, who won the International Women’s Prize for May We Be Forgiven, a breathtaking satire of modern American life, Eleanor Catton, who at 28 was the youngest Man Booker Prize winner and Lucy Hughes-Hallett, whose biography The Pike, about the warmongering, womanising Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, took out the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
It’s a big year for two of Australia’s greatest writers. David Malouf turns 80 and has released both a new volume of poetry and a collection of essays. Exquisitely written, they dip, dive and soar across subjects large and small. And national treasure Thomas Keneally celebrates 50 years of writing with sessions on his impressive body of work.
As Richard Flanagan recently wrote, “We cannot escape politics, history, religion, nationalism – for their sources lie as deep in our hearts as love and goodness, perhaps even deeper”. With the centenary of WWI this year, we look at both the Great War and WWII. How did war change us? Richard Flanagan, Ian Buruma and Frank Dikötter are just a few of the authors shedding light on the subject.
Was Jesus really a pacifist? Religious scholar and author Reza Aslan’s provocative new book, Zealot, questions assumptions about Jesus and has caused quite a stir. Reza spoke about Iran and Israel with Ari Shavit who writes about the history of Israel and Zionism in My Promised Land.
North Korea is a country cloaked in secrecy. Jang Jin-sung reveals the realities of the regime and his experience working for one of the world’s harshest totalitarian states. He spoke to Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson, whose The Orphan Master’s Son is a fictional imagining of the country.
New Zealand singer-songwriter Tim Finn performed White Cloud for the first time in Australia, a meditative musing on home and identity. The sensational 5x15 returned to Sydney Theatre with five speakers including Anna Bligh and Wesley Enoch. At night, The Festival Club at Walsh Bay hosted a smorgasbord of storytelling, and The Chaser crew interviewed special guests such as Pixar’s Matthew Luhn and journalist Jeremy Scahill.
For the first time, Bondi Beach welcomes Sydney Writers’ Festival with a week of events at the Pavilion, including performances by British-Nigerian spoken word artist Inua Ellams.
This year’s writers-in-residence are the brilliant Fiona McFarlane and Chris Flynn who will be blogging daily on Festival goings-on. And keep your eyes out for quotes from Festival authors all across Sydney on City of Sydney trucks and billboards.
For children, Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants himself, gave talks at Chatswood’s Concourse Theatre and Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. For the whole family - the Big Top for Little People at Walsh Bay on Sunday 25 May was a carnival of storytelling, art, discussion, comedy, poetry, theatre, food and dance.
Finally, the 2014 Closing Address with Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, and more recently, Frog Music, speaking about the transformative power of literature and the ability of writers to change the world, one reader at a time.
It’s thinking season.