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Sydney Writers' Festival

Words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

It was an honour and privilege to speak to the former Governor-General of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce.

Dressed in ivory, with a bolero jacket draped over her shoulders and Dear Quentin in her hand, she walks into the conference room at the Pier One. Despite the early start from Brisbane, her commitments of the day in Sydney are still not over, at 6:30pm. Yet she eases into the conversation with great enthusiasm and warmth.

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Photograph: Dina Mura

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By Kristi Cheng

On the Saturday of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I had the opportunity to talk to Annabel Crabb, host of the ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet, author of The Wife Drought, and avid fan of Helen Garner. As I made my way from our office to the Pier One hotel, I walked past Benjamin Law; it was one of the many author-sightings of this festival.

At a few minutes past one, she walked into the hotel, dressed casually, with her curly brown hair tied up, and greeted me with a friendly smile. We didn’t have a lot of time; she had be at another event by one-thirty, which meant we had only around twenty minutes. But when you’re Annabel Crabb, an author, columnist, political journalist, and a mother of three, there’s a lot you can fit into twenty minutes.

I mentally strike out parts of my list of questions, and we started promptly.

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Illustration and words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

It’s not everyday, that one gets the opportunity to ask a linguist about his or her inspirations. Hence of course, when one does, one must seize it.

After speaking to Professor Nick Enfield about his current projects, he was glad to let me know a bit about the beginning of his journey.

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Illustration and words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

As people start to leave the Richard Wherrett Studio after the panel discussion, I am hurried by the volunteer usher who shouts ‘run!’, kindly hoping that I won’t miss Professor Nick Enfield. I hurry against the crowd, with my lanyard pulling me back as it gets caught on the back of a chair along way. As the side door starts to close, I push back onto it with more force than I had intended and see him standing there with some of the panel members.

Phew!

Away from the hubbub, we walk across to Pier 8 and on the wooden steps of a building, begin the interview.

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Words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

Life is complicated; so we must stop trying to simplify it. This especially applies when we discuss food and water, two fundamentals of life, for they are more than things that we consume to keep ourselves alive. They are part of our culture and way of life.

At the Sydney Writers’ Festival, this year, five University of Sydney academics, Beth Yahp, Chin Jou, Tess Lea (facilitator), Astrida Neimanis and Elspeth Probyn joined together to discuss the fundamentals of life at stake

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Photograph: Kate Mayor

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By Kristi Cheng

I take in my scenic surroundings as I walk to the office we’ve called home for the past few days; I probably won’t be here in early in the morning for a while. There weren’t as many people today as there were yesterday – this I was surprised about – but there were so many more... small people. There were little people here, little people there. There were little people everywhere. Some were slightly larger little people, but let’s just say – and I don’t consider myself a tall person, in any way – I crashed headfirst (well, their head, my torso) into at least three small children during the day because they were out of my range of sight. You see, today was Family Day, and parents were here to get their children to put the fidget spinners down, and pick up a book.

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By: Tahni Beattie

Despite having well and truly reached the threshold of ‘adulting’, my fondness for stories, particularly those by Roald Dahl, has only intensified. Which is why I jumped at the chance to sit in on a live recording of the ABC podcast Short & Curly at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, titled “How to deal with nasty, horrible, terrible people (with a little help from Roald Dahl).” Hosts Carl Smith and Dr Matt Beard graced the stage, one wearing a purple sequined coat and the other a grand top-hat, to discuss the question: How much can made-up stories teach us about bad people in real life? The answer, it seems, is a lot. Those familiar with the podcast will know that Carl and Matt aim to teach children all about ethics.

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By Eden Faithfull

When I walk into the Pier One bar, I immediately notice Clementine Ford sitting with her ten-month old boy in her lap. The bar is playing smooth jazz, and I’m pretty sure Yassmin Abdel-Magied just walked past me, and instantly I feel very much out of my depth. As I go over to introduce myself, Clementine’s pomegranate lipstick beams up at me as she seats her son, Frank, on the floor between us. “I will be listening to you even though I’m not looking at you,” she says, staring at Frank as he begins to toddle towards the glass windows, “I just have to keep an eye on him.” I sit down across from her and make myself comfortable, which is startlingly easy in her presence.

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Illustration and words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

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By Eden Faithfull

H.P. Lovecraft once wrote, “The process of delving into the black abyss is to me the keenest form of fascination.” Whilst the Sydney Writers’ Festival may not necessarily resemble Lovecraft’s notion of the black abyss, it certainly is a platform for those who wish to delve: into the minds of great authors, into their own preconceptions and partialities, into the cultural landscape that is Sydney’s literary scene. And a keen form of fascination it is, because never before has a cultural event so truly opened the possibilities that this Writers’ Festival has for me.

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Words by Kristi Cheng

On Friday, at around five past ten in the morning – late – I willed my legs to go just a little faster in its journey across Pier 2/3 on the way to the stage located at its very end. The irony that I was heading to a talk named The Pleasure of Leisure, the eponymous book of this talk, did not escape me while I tried to quietly make my way up the already-full room to a seat, beads of sweat running down my face. At the heart of Robert Dessaix’s book – and this talk – was the importance of honouring leisure, and how to do it. You see, in the crazily busy modern world, working, networking, and filling any empty time with something, was the way to go; there is no value in being idle.

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By Nathan Bernfield

Way out west of Sydney’s wonderful Writers Festival, past the Blue Mountains and south of Blackheath, are the Jenolan Caves. Classically known for attracting young Aussie families and foreign tourists to frolic amongst the ancient limestone and subterranean rivers, one of the largest popular sites is Devil’s Coach House. Self-guided tours are available every day in a number of different languages, and one of the options even includes Aboriginal cultural commentary. Night tours are also a popular way to explore Devil’s Coach House, including a tourist-favourite tour: ‘Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts’.

It all sounds pretty fun and entertaining, and if you were in Juanita Ruys’ lecture this morning at the Sydney Writers Festival, you would have heard some very compelling and competing stories for how Devil’s Coach House received its diabolical name. The real story, though, as Juanita reveals, is far more disturbing and discomforting than these ghostly and demonic stories could ever be.

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Words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

“Is an audience willing and still enough to be read to?” asks Charlotte Wood, writer and close friend of the late Georgia Blain.

The answer is easy: ‘Yes, as long as it is from the works of a brilliant writer’.

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by Nathan Bernfield

Far away from the rocks under the Harbour Bridge, young and old, women and men, even a dog, Uber’d their way to a cold Camperdown to the University of Sydney Business School. There they sat down in the big blue auditorium, to listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author, Susan Faludi. Her 1991 ‘Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women’ landed her on every feminist bookshelf and gender studies reader. Her new book, In the Darkroom (2016), was the focus of tonight’s discussion; hosted by our own Anna Hush, a philosophy honours student, young writer and anti-domestic violence activist.

Susan’s prolific works cover a wide range of thought: from feminism, to capitalism, neo-liberalism, terrorism, and finally Trump-ism. Susan describes feminism as means for people to find their own voice. Tonight’s discussion began with how her own feminism began: her father.

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Photos and words by Jennifer Chen

As a part of the Media Hub internship at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Ross Gittins whose work had pulled me through my time studying economics in High School.

From the 30 minutes I had to chat with the beloved economics guru, I learnt much more on the philosophies of life than I had expected. A career of four decades amidst the booms and busts of the national economy, the comes and goes in government, and the ups and downs in societal aspirations has made a man who always looks forwards.

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Photos and words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

When someone asks ‘how’s your day been?’ The generic response is, ‘good; thank you’ or another positive variant of it. But rarely do we truly mean it.

Lucky for me, in the reviewing of my second day I will not have to exercise this self-forced façade of positivity; the Sydney Writers’ Festival is a Media Hub Intern’s paradise. It is a place where critical minds collide and unite universes of knowledge and imagination, facilitating a global awareness and restoring hope for the future. It is a privilege to be a part of.
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Photos and words by Jennifer Chen

Day two at the Sydney Writers’ Festival saw crowds gather along Walsh Bay. The end of each session marked influxes of people brushing shoulders as they made their way to the next event.

The University of Sydney Media Hub began the day with an interactivity session with High School students attending the Festival. Staff and interns split up into five teams and gave students a hands-on experience in ‘an hour in the life of a Media Hub intern’. I had the opportunity to interact with a team of five High School students in an Instagramming exercise. They may be young but they had sharp minds. What culminated were series of ‘instaworthy’ photos that captured the spirit of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

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Photos and words by Jennifer Chen

“What we lack in Australia is a narrative. We lack a story of ourselves that is authentic and honest and captures what it is to be Australian.” --- Stan Grant

Stan Grant’s speech on racism and the Australian dream at the Ethics Centre challenged the problematic meaning of the Australian dream. The author, who had written a Quarterly Essay on The Australian Dream: Blood History and Becoming, said that Australians’ response to his speech had generated a discussion he had not anticipated.

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By Eden Faithfull

INT. OFFICE BUILDING – MORNING
An author meets with his agent.

AUTHOR: It’s pretty tough finding work in today’s literary landscape. I don’t even know where my next paycheck is coming.

AGENT: If there’s one thing we have to remember, it’s this: our goal is to make art and make money. If we can’t make money, then we’ll make art.

Pause

AGENT: And if we can’t make art, then we’ll make money.

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By Eden Faithfull

As Roanna Gonsalves takes the stage, she lifts her phone over her head, drops her shoulders and tilts her body, and then she tells the audience to smile as she snaps a photo. In many situations, this may have been a very unusual thing to do. However, in a discussion titled Literature as Selfie, this globally-renowned, chorographical movement was not only expected, but celebrated by the audience that was captured in the self-taken image that she created.

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Words by Kristi Cheng

On most other occasions, Professor Mark McKenna would probably be speaking about history; he is a leading historian, a professor of history, and recently published a book recounting some of Australia’s largely forgotten stories from the time of European settlement. Today, however, he was here to talk about music. After all, without music, writing would have been a very different experience for him.

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By Eden Faithfull

The Sydney Writers’ Festival brings together Australia and the world’s greatest literary minds: those who empower, those who fight, those who reflect, those who investigate and most importantly, those who write. And of course, everyone in between. Being a Media Hub Intern in the midst of this throng of brilliance is an almost overwhelmingly excellent experience, and at the close of Day One, I am already itching to jump headlong into tomorrow.

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Image credit: Eden Faithfull/

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By Eden Faithfull

When Queen Victoria was buried, she requested that a number of different articles be entombed along with her. Of these objects, she specified that three be laid in her right hand, and another three in her left. In her right hand was placed an image of her husband, Prince Albert, a lock of his hair and a plaster cast of his own right hand. In her left was an image of one of her servants, John Brown, a lock of his hair and his mother’s wedding ring. Simply by taking stock of her unusual choice of relics for the hereafter, you could assume that Queen Victoria was a complex woman. You wouldn’t be wrong.

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Photos and words by Jennifer Chen

Is artificial intelligence taking over the human novelist? Is the fantasy of a bot-writing machine far-fetched in the bot-spam era? Chris Rodley takes us on a journey through the history of novel-writing machines to take us back where we began.

Our obsession with bots taking over the world has existed long before the Twitter bots. Rodley traced this obsession back to 1953, from the coining of the term “software” to the works of artificial intelligence by Marvin Minsky. What was remarkable about the year was the birth of the first novel-writing machine ever built ---Christopher Strachey’s love letter generator.

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By Lauren Gui

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We are inextricably caught up in the paradox of endless numbered days from the day we are born, but fairytales have endured the test of time. I caught up with Kate Forsyth, a celebrated voice in fairytale retelling and acclaimed novelist of the international bestseller Bitter Greens, to talk about how fairytales resonate with both the young and old with their power to instill courage, and the complexity of good and evil choices.

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By Swetha Das

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The intersection between the power of the internet and the prevalence of misogyny has led to the omission of women’s voices in public spaces.

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By Swetha Das

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French writer, Jean Cocteau, once said that “the poet doesn’t invent. He listens”.

A poet has countless influences, but for Kate Lilley and Geoffrey Lehmann, their experiences have drawn out the narratives in their work.

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By Lauren Gui

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Jonathan Franzen does not disappoint.

As he takes the stage, Franzen pauses for a few moments to gaze quizzically around the room before wryly addressing the crowd: “This is a grand hall.” Instantly, I take a fond liking to him, especially since Franzen’s sentiments about Twitter beautifully encapsulate my own: “Twitter is unspeakably irritating.”

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By Angelina Kosev and Tom St John

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The sun is bright, the crowd is plentiful, there are children running around and the sound of what could possibly be a xylophone is wafting out of all the buildings – it is children and family day at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, but I am walking towards the refuge of Julian Baggini’s talk on free will. Perhaps this is a different type of playground (one for the existentialist, the nihilist, or simply the interested; all of whom were spotted here).

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By Lauren Gui

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Cities may burn to the ground, but their bones remain, whispering secrets into the hot dusty breeze.

On a Thursday morning bathed in dazzling sunlight, a packed room tucked away at the end of the pier buzzing in anticipation lowers to an excited murmur. Eleanor Limprecht catches my eye and offers a warm smile and quick wink, picking up on my fruitless attempt to contain my enthusiasm.

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By Lauren A. Weber

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I never thought that a talk surrounding cookbooks would involve politics, race, history, and of course food - all at once.

“Our Food History: In Black and White” featuring Jacqui Newling and John Newton embodied all of this juicy stuff, and I also found out that apparently the notorious Australian supervillain also known as the ‘brush turkey’ is a delicious bird that can be baked or seared like duck!

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By Nicola Cayless

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The lobby at the Pier One Hotel is busy, so I suggest we sit outside for the interview, even though it is a little chilly. Nate Marshall, poet and author of Wild Hundreds (University of Pittsburgh Press 2015), is from Chicago, though. I doubt the cold would bother him.

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by Swetha Das

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Lauren A. Weber


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It isn’t often you can say you began your day by watching Paul Muldoon read Seamus Heaney’s poems. Kicking off today’s festivities meant learning how eloquent and engaging Muldoon is as a reader, something I wouldn’t necessarily have expected from the often rolling, difficult nature of his poems.

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By Tom St John

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Platoon, Blackhawk Down, Full Metal Jacket, American Sniper...Hollywood has a long tradition of hyper-masculinity in film. It’s in this fetishised world of fraternal loyalty and physical courage, argues University of Sydney lecturer Dr Megan Mackenzie, that we form and perpetuate the myth that women don’t belong in the armed forces.

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By Nicola Cayless

I wonder if Catriona has ever read Aesop.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” the adage goes. I’m sure at the very least, she’s aware of the concept. The hare, with all its speed and velocity, tires out, while the tortoise plods across the finish line victoriously.

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By Swetha Das

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The privilege of naivety when it comes to understanding the hardships of war was a sentiment that rang true during the talk “The Reality of War: Reconciling Two Worlds”.

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By Tom St John

I’ve never actually seen Jaws before, and yet it’s almost impossible to go further than neck-deep at my local beach before the rhythmic ‘Dada…dada…dada-dada-dada’ starts echoing through my mind.

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By Alistair Kitchen and Nicola Cayless

If there were any old media acolytes wandering around the Sydney Writers Festival on Friday, they found no solace in John Birmingham’s talk. Appropriately named “Death Spiral: The Future of Media and Publishing”, Birmingham used his time to lambast the decisions of media heads trying to adjust to brave new world of media.

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By Tom St John

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“If it no go so, it go near so”
- Jamaican Proverb

Pier One hotel guests reclined on cushioned cane benches, cruise ships moved through the harbour sporadically blotting out the setting sun, two Dark and Stormy cocktails were on their way, and Marlon James was shaking himself out of the inevitable jetlag that comes with acclimatising to the Australian time zone.

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If you missed seeing these two fantastic and famous writers in conversation, here's the lowdown:

By: Lauren A. Weber


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This is one of the big talks, one of the ones that you can’t wait to tell your friends and family about. Everyone has either read Boyd or Barnes for pleasure or study, they are two of the most important contemporary fiction writers of the English literature world.

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Written by Nicola Cayless

On stage sit three big names in the contemporary American poetry world. Little me, baby poet from Sydney, is shaking in my boots.

Don Share (the editor of POETRY magazine), and Nate Marshall and Jamila Woods (two superstar poets, activists, and performers from Chicago), chat amongst themselves, waiting for the audience to file in. Every so often, Marshall’s childlike bark of a laugh echoes out amongst the empty seats, washing over me.

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By Tom St John

It may have been influenced by the fact it was my first day at the Sydney Writer’s Festival 2016, but Thursday the 19th felt like a day of discovery. Foreigners discovering how beautiful a sunset on Sydney Harbour can look, authors discovering a new style, Rotarians discovering the selfie feature on their smartphones and doe-eyed young children discovering how a book can make you feel.

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Daniel Mendelsohn is a celebrated classicist and critic for the New Yorker and New York Review of Books, and author of the international bestseller The Lost: a search for six of six million. His education as a classicist informs the bulk of his literary output, in which he builds wonderfully imaginative bridges between cultural pasts and the present. I caught up with Daniel to talk about his role as a cultural critic, the importance of the classics and the gruelling experience of writing memoirs.

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Holding a talk about television at a writers’ festival? How… disgusting. Blasphemous even. I very nearly boycotted this event (lest I heckled the Philistines on the panel) until I realised that one such panellist was my hero, the inimitable Shaun Micallef. Philistines? Did I say that? Ahem, all in good fun…

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Image: Helen Garner Flickr: Lee Sandwith

This House of Grief

Why would a father drive his three sons, aged 10, seven and two, into a dam on a farm between Winchelsea and Geelong in rural Victoria, resulting in their death by drowning and his escape into a life imprisonment sentence? This House of Grief is celebrated Australian author Helen Garner's latest work. This House of Grief tells the story of Robert Farquharson. It’s not a story told on his behalf, but it’s also not a story that reduces him to a ‘monster’. Helen Garner is unafraid to invade deep into threatening territory. Her Sydney Writers’ Festival talk made clear just how necessary, valuable and costly her writing is in its honest pursuit of understanding as much as she can. Costly because when reading or listening to her, it is hard, or impossible, to prevent the dissolution of barriers we might have constructed to save us from feeling pain for those who “don’t deserve” our compassion. As she put it, simply and tellingly, when labelling someone a “monster” there is a subtext: “He is a monster and I am not…[It is] separating yourself from the horrible mess that human lives are.”

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“Stamp collectors, with their glue-tabs and albums, adorers of the tenuous papery whisper of what comes from afar, soaking envelopes to reclaim cancelled stamps, discarding the envelopes, ignoring the addresses, never noticing the names of the original recipients, the persons for whom the letter was intended, cherishing instead the postage.” Proximity People, Jonathan Lethem. http://granta.com/proximity-people/

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When I walked into the room to listen to the ‘Her Body, Her Choice’ panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I was surprised at how stunned I was to see four women of colour sitting on stage.

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Australia’s experience of war has tended to become a byword for nationhood, a means of expressing and realising our independence as a nation. However, it is not exactly a straightforward affair. The SBS’ sacking of the recalcitrant Scott McIntyre over his ANZAC day comments reflects the polarising nature of the discussion. The recent centenary of the ANZAC legend has also forced Australians to reassess how our military responses have affected our national identity and historical representation.

On Saturday, three notable historians - Jenny Hocking, Tim Rowse, and Professor of History and Provost at the University of Sydney Stephen Garton - presented a thoroughly detailed historical enquiry into these questions at hand.

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From clicktivism to citizen journalism, social media has become an essential platform for social and political change (at least if you’re a Gen Y kid).

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I was born in 1993, at almost exactly the same time as the Internet was beginning to revolutionise the way the world works.

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Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel Station Eleven is a thrilling, beautifully written novel that explores relationships in a post-pandemic world where 99 per cent of the world’s population has been wiped out. The story follows a troupe of musicians and Shakespearean actors, The Travelling Symphony, as they perform between the remaining settlements. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

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Historian Harvey Broadbent and biographer Ross Coulthart didn’t challenge the myths of Gallipoli. They didn’t need to; the mere facts were sufficient.

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From David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas to Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy, dystopian novels are becoming increasingly in vogue, as their Hollywood blockbuster adaptions attest.

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What do you see in this painting?

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The Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris this January has dramatically refocused the global spotlight on the question of freedom of speech, what it really entails, and the polarising consequences its application can have. Last night, three wonderfully different minds, Ben Okri, Tim Soutphommasane, and Ayu Utami sat down to tackle the issue at hand in the gripping Sydney Writers’ Festival panel ‘Freedom of Speech: A Loaded Gun?’

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The world of Greek and Roman literature is one that can seem outdated and irrelevant, tucked away in musty libraries and museums. This morning, in the resplendent Roslyn Packer Theatre, Daniel Mendelsohn and David Malouf confronted this perception in their Sydney Writers’ Festival talk "Writers on Writers: Malouf and Mendelsohn on the Classics", peeling back the veneer of the Classics and presenting an enticing world of “naked statues and bad behavior.”

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Image: CC BY 2.0/Flickr: Tony Webster

What do Sarah Hopkins, Kate McClymont, and Michael Robotham all have in common?

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Kate McClymont needs no introduction. From uncovering rife corruption and nepotism in the Eddie Obeid case, to her Gold Walkley-winning exposé into the Bulldogs salary cap scandal, she has no doubt seen Sydney “at its best, and its worst.”

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University of Sydney academic Dr Rebecca Sheehan shattered cultural prejudices at her talk at the Sydney Writers’ Festival

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Chatting with the awe-inspiring adventure writer, Tim Cope, consisted of an hour-long conversation of intrigue, excitement and insight.

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Many think of ogres, bloodthirsty vampires and zombies when they think of evil. But Philosopher Luke Russell delved into the world of politics, superstition, history and literature as he posed intellectual arguments about evil at the Sydney Writers’ Festival recently.

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In discussion with Adam Johnson about his latest Pulitzer prize winning novel The Orphan Master's Son

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In the intimate setting of the Sydney Theatre’s Richard Wherrett studio, a perfect stage was set for the political and emotional discussion of the toil after the Arab Spring.

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Gabrielle D’Annunzio is a warmonger, womanizer, poet and playwright. He was a megalomaniac, a fascist, and aviator, dubbing himself L’mmagnifico ‘The Great Curator’. He is the personification of Italian decadence, a creature of an unbridled appetite for fame, luxury, and women.

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Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and most recently, The Valley of Amazement, a historical narrative about life in the courtesan houses of China in 1905.

Tan strode onto the stage at Sydney Theatre after many hours of waiting by her most adoring literary fans. Although she had yet not spoken a word, the auditorium was filled with silence, captivated by this mysterious woman and what she was going to say.

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Speaking at the Sydney Writers’ Festival’s Bloomberg Stage, David Braddon-Mitchell told us “writing and storytelling will help us find what we have reason to love.”

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Adam Johnson is not just an eloquent writer and expert on North Korean life and politics. He is also a captivating orator and truly friendly bloke.

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Benjamin Law started writing for the freebies. Now he does it to satisfy his curiosity. It seems his funny, poignant take on families and communities is paying dividends.

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Benjamin Law started writing for the freebies. Now he does it to satisfy his curiosity. It seems his funny, poignant take on families and communities is paying dividends.

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I sat down for an interview with Steven O’Donnell (known to many by his nickname ‘Bajo’) who took part in a panel discussion at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last night.

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The Sydney Writers’ Festival has exciting programs running for children, from storytelling workshops to colouring-in and activity sessions.

I interviewed Andrew Joyner, author and illustrator of the children’s book The Terrible Plop, Boris Gets a Lizard and Ready, Set, BORIS. The Terrible Plop has received an award from Speech Pathology Australia, and has also received an award for the Best Children’s Cover from the APA Book Design Awards.

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Professor Iain McCalman weaved a rich tapestry of history, science, culture and environment to explore the various identities of the Great Barrier Reef at a Sydney Writers’ Festival talk on Monday night.

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What does writing mean for Alice Walker? In the screening of the documentary Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the audience was given a few answers.

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I was particularly struck by one moment during the launch of Tara Moss’s new non-fiction book The Fictional Woman, at Sydney Writers’ Festival last night.

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Leading foreign correspondent Hamish McDonald led a panel discussion between human rights professor Ian Buruma, author Frank Dikötter and University of Sydney Honorary Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick, on the devastation of war and the ongoing implications for both the victors and vanquished.

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“I’ve never really left poetry, I think if I did it would shift my entire being”, Luke Davies says, reflecting on his life and writing with the reissue of his first collection of poetry, Four Plots for Magnets.

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Image: Flickr/happy.apple, used under the Creative Commons licence

Lauren Beukes is a South African novelist, scriptwriter and comics writer. Her latest novel, The Shining Girls, involves time travel, a ruthless serial killer, and an inexorable young woman who will stop at nothing to hunt her killer down. Most recently, it was announced that the book will be adapted for television. I spoke to Lauren at the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2013 about the art of storytelling and its role in her life.

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“I was told that every day you should write down something from the five senses,” says Craig Taylor, handing down this writing advice for me and other like-minded young writers, like a well-kept secret.

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“Luke likes order and control, I like chaos and mess,” said David Michôd, director of the multi award-winning film, Animal Kingdom. He was referring to the writer extraordinaire sitting beside him: Luke Davies, one of the most frequently recurring names in this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival program.

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I’ll admit it: I adore Margo Lanagan – or, at least, as much as one can adore a personal literary idol. Ever since I was lucky enough to have her as a tutor during my stint at Clarion South Writers Workshop in 2009, I have been in awe of her incisive intelligence and humility as a writer, not to mention her singularly compelling literary voice. Lanagan is best known for her genre-defying novels and short stories, and has received numerous awards, in Australia and internationally, for her work. I spoke to her at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival about some of the triumphs and the tribulations of her work.

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How can texts that are thousands of years old possibly still be relevant to people today? This is the question asked again and again by students and readers of classical literature, the fundamental problem that drives all historical discourse.

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There is a queue outside the theatre, and a casual, post-lunch hum. Inside, everyone has shed their coats and there is lively chatter. They’re having to turn people away from this event, but they’re also live broadcasting it on the speakers outside. Debra Adelaide, who is chairing the panel, starts off with no small statement, “It’s hard to imagine a more important topic in a writers’ festival. Without creative nurturing none of us would have found ourselves sitting here today.” She’s drawn everyone in. The panel nod in agreement. This panel consists of three University of Sydney academics from the Faculty of Education and Social Work: Professor Robyn Ewing, and renown children’s author and Adjunct Associate Libby Gleeson, and Honorary Associate Teya Dusseldorp.

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Chief literary critic at The Guardian from 1992 to 1995 and now a staff writer for The New Yorker, James Wood has established a reputation as the most dreaded reviewer of today. On Saturday at the Sydney Writers' Festival, he reflected on his life as a critic, spoke of his new collection of essays, The Fun Stuff, and revealed that writing is not his only talent.

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One phrase repeats in my head as I navigate my way to the venue, through crowds of festivalgoers, and blue-shirted volunteers, one phrase repeats endlessly in my head: “potentially explosive”.

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Political philosopher at the University of Sydney’s Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, led a deeply moving panel on Extraordinary Stories of Migration at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, navigating the pain and trauma of the migrant experience.

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Professor Kerry Brown, Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, led a panel discussion between three experts on China and the state’s rapid ascent to international attention.

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Historian, travel writer, and co-founder of the Jaipur Literature Festival, William Dalrymple took to the Sydney Writers' Festival stage on Thursday to talk about his most recent book, Return of a King. I had the privilege of chatting with him before his impassioned address about his writing and how it has changed since his first published book over two decades ago.


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Festival goers flick through William Dalrymple's, Return of a King, after his talk at the Sydney Writers' Festival 2013. Photo by Drew Rooke


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Fan fiction: it often inspires derision of the most scathing kind or admiration for its democratic principles.

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