There is something for everyone on this year’s program, including food writing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, queer stories, poetry, politics, podcasting, and new works from some of the greatest writers of our time.
The festival’s theme, ‘stories for the future’, is woven into sessions from the opening address on how looking to the past can shape our future, to the Friday night ‘great debate’ on whether the future is still worth waiting for. Here are our top picks for Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023.
1. Opening Night Address: How the Past Shapes the Future
23 May, 6:30–8:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, writer and broadcaster Benjamin Law and Miles Franklin Award winner Alexis Wright explore how past events can shape our future, followed by a performance by renowned poet Madison Godfrey.
2. Shehan Karunatilaka: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
24 May, 8:00–9:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Sri Lankan novelist Shehan Karunatilaka was awarded the 2022 Booker Prize for his darkly humorous satire The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, which follows an itinerant, gay, atheist photojournalist during seven days spent in the afterlife. He shares his thoughts on how his story sheds light on the violence that plagued Sri Lanka in the 1980s.
3. Geraldine Brooks: Horse
25 May, 2:00–3:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Pulitzer Prize–winning author and journalist Geraldine Brooks discusses her latest novel, Horse. A captivating historical saga, the book explores the true story of one of America’s greatest racehorses, as well as the lingering legacy of slavery, injustice and racism.
4. Julia Gillard: Not Now, Not Ever
25 May, 6:00–7:00 pm – Sydney Town Hall
Former prime minister Julia Gillard speaks candidly with The Guardian’s political editor Katharine Murphy about her new book, Not Now, Not Ever, celebrating 10 years since her influential misogyny speech in Parliament.
5. Eleanor Catton: Birnam Wood
26 May, 12:00–1:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 17
The Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, discusses her long-awaited follow-up, Birnam Wood. A psychological thriller set in New Zealand, Birnam Wood sees a ragtag activist collection face off with an enigmatic American billionaire on the eve of a global catastrophe.
6. Michael Kirby and Bo Seo
26 May, 2:00–3:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Two-time world debating champion Bo Seo and former High Court justice Michael Kirby explore how we can better listen and disagree with each other in an era of increasingly harsh public debate. The pair also discuss Bo’s memoir, Good Arguments, which examines how constructive discussion can counteract political manipulation, fake news and social media trolling.
7. Future Fictions
26 May, 4:00–5:00 pm – Carriageworks, Track 8
Formerly the domain of science fiction, artificial intelligence is now an increasingly common part of our everyday lives. Speculative fiction authors Grace Chan and Tom Rob-Smith discuss its potential and perils.
8. Holly Ringland: The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding
26 May, 5:00–6:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 20
Holly Ringland, author of globally acclaimed work The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, introduces her new novel, The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding. Spanning Tasmania, Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, Holly’s new work traces the far reaches of grief, courage and sisterly love.
9. Soundtrack of Our Lives
26 May, 6:00–7:00 pm – Carriageworks, Track 8
Music journalists and debut authors Mawunyo Gbogbo (Hip Hop & Hymns), Kate Scott (Compulsion) and Jonathan Seidler (It’s a Shame About Ray) sit down to discuss music in literature and incorporating sound and song into their own books.
10. A Life in Food: Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer
27 May, 10:00–11:00 am – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Culinary luminaries Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer have helped transform how Australians think about food. The pair speak with fellow cook, writer and presenter Adam Liaw about their decades-long friendship, their shared adventure running a cooking school in Tuscany, and their co-authored Tuscan Cookbook, which has been optioned to be made into a movie.
11. Don Watson: The Passion of Private White
27 May, 1:00–2:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 20
Australian writer Don Watson is known for his historical and political observations. In this session he talks about his career and newest book, The Passion of Private White, which tells the true story of a fifty-year relationship between anthropologist and Vietnam veteran Neville White and an isolated Aboriginal community in north-east Arnhem Land. The result offers an intensely moving and insightful window into Australia’s deep past and precarious present.
12. The Blackfulla Books That Made Us
27 May, 2.30–3.30 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 24
Amy Thunig and Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts celebrate the power of First Nations storytelling and examine its role in advancing notions of sovereignty, with Merinda Dutton.
13. Future Farming
27 May, 4:00–5:00 pm – Carriageworks, Track 8
Farmer and restaurateur Matthew Evans (Soil: The incredible story of what keeps the earth, and us, healthy), writer and podcaster Nicola Harvey (Farm: the making of a climate activist), and chef and farmer Sam Vincent (My Father and Other Animals: How I Took on the Family Farm) consider how we fix the world’s failing and increasingly harmful farming systems.
14. Pip Williams: The Bookbinder of Jericho
27 May, 4:00–5:00 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Australian novelist Pip Williams, author of The Dictionary of Lost Words, introduces her sweeping new novel The Bookbinder of Jericho. In this thought-provoking work, a young woman working in a book bindery in Oxford gets a chance to pursue the knowledge she craves when the upheaval of the First World War reshapes her life.
15. The Dinner that Changed My Life
27 May, 6:00–7:00 pm – Sydney Town Hall
A star-studded crew of cooks, writers and storytellers joins hosts Annabel Crabb and Adam Liaw to share the meals that reshaped their lives, from the sublime to epic failures. Speakers include Matthew Evans, Rosheen Kaul, Nat’s What I Reckon and Heather Mitchell with hosts Annabel Crabb and Adam Liaw.
16. Podmania: Crime on the Record
27 May, 7:30–8:30 pm – Carriageworks, Bay 20
Podcasting has revitalised storytelling. In this session, podcasters Patrick Abboud, Kate McClymont and Hedley Thomas share their thoughts on the rising star of digital media, how the format fosters creativity and intimacy, and why it may be most exciting cultural innovation of our times.
17. Sam Neill: Did I Ever Tell You This?
27 May, 8:00–9:00 pm – Sydney Town Hall
Acclaimed actor Sam Neill shares stories from his new memoir, Did I Ever Tell You This?. From his early days in amateur theatre productions in New Zealand to leading roles in movies such as My Brilliant Career, Jurassic Park and The Piano, Sam brings great wit and warmth to his life story.
18. Barrie Cassidy and Friends: State of the Nation
28 May, 10:00–11:00 am – Carriageworks, Bay 17
Veteran journo Barrie Cassidy assembles some of Australia’s sharpest political commentators including Katharine Murphy, Laura Tingle and Niki Savva to revisit the highs and lows of the last 12 months in Australian politics – from ScoMo’s secret ministries to the rise of the Teal independents.