Archive Festival 2013
Festival 2013
Highlights from Festival 2013

Jemma Birrel

‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world’ ― Philip Pullman

Stories lie at the heart of our lives. We need them to understand ourselves, to understand others, to make sense of the world around us. This year, Sydney Writers’ Festival looks at the depth and breadth of storytelling and celebrates the simple pleasure of being told a great tale.

‘To begin at the beginning’, as Dylan Thomas said, is to consider our oral storytelling traditions. In this year’s Festival Opening Address, Daniel Morden, one of Europe’s greatest oral storytellers, reinvigorates this ancient tradition by sharing with us some of the stories he’s collected from around the world and across the ages.

Irish poet, novelist and bird-watcher Dermot Healy, whose work has been lavishly praised by Seamus Heaney, among others, visits us from the wilds of Sligo. Also in Australia for the first time, we have The New Yorker’s literary critic, James Wood, as well as Norway’s most notorious and controversial author, Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Faramerz Dabhoiwala, "the Stephen Hawking of sex", spices up an event or two, and renowned physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, shows us that not only is it possible that our universe arose naturally from nothing, without supernatural shenanigans, but also that it probably did.

We welcome one of India’s most loved writers, Anita Desai, whose work spans decades, continents and emotional landscapes; Kate Atkinson, whose new book is "a box of delights"; Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of The Shadow of the Wind; and Claire Messud with The Woman Upstairs, a brilliant ‘acid bath’ of a novel. Claire, a Canadian-French-American hybrid, who grew up partly in Australia, will deliver the Festival’s Closing Address on the importance of "imaginary homelands".

Showcasing the extraordinary range and scope of Australian writing, the Festival celebrates our unique storytellers. Gillian Mears speaks about her award-winning novel, Foal’s Bread, for the first time in Sydney. Major General John Cantwell shares his profoundly moving story of living with post-traumatic stress, and Amanda Lohry asks former leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, about the future of activism. Hannah Kent, whose debut novel, Burial Rites, caused a bidding war around the world, describes her love letter to Iceland and the true story behind it.  

As we hear more and more about technological innovation, it’s easy to forget that the platform is only as interesting as the story. Eli Horowitz, creator of The Silent History, a serialised novel for iPhones, shows us the possibilities of digital storytelling when the creatives take control.

You will be treated to some of the best live storytelling from Australia and around the world. From London we have 5x15 – five speakers each talking for 15 minutes about a passion or obsession. Scotland’s Jackie Kay retells some of her favourite taxi conversations, Lawrence Krauss, argues that Star Trek saved the world, Australian hip-hop artist Urthboy defends new beginnings, novelist Kate Mosse reveals the importance of female heroes and Amelia Lester gives us the inside scoop on being Managing Editor of The New Yorker.

In SWF Shorts, Claudia Karvan, Jacqueline McKenzie, Brendan Cowell, Stephen James King and William McInnes read their favourite short stories. And Kip Williams from Sydney Theatre Company curates readings straight from the bazaar in The Thousand and One Nights.

In this election year, we look more closely at how political stories are told, and who is really crafting the message behind the politicians we love and loathe. At Town Hall, the ABC’s Leigh Sales speaks to President Barack Obama’s chief digital strategist, Joe Rospars, alongside pollster, Mark Textor, and advertising guru, Neil Lawrence.

In the Opera House, philosopher and "rock-star moralist" Michael Sandel confronts one of the biggest ethical issues of our time, asking if there’s something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale.

Comedian, writer and activist Ruby Wax, who has openly battled depression, takes to the stage to tell us how to keep sane in an insane world. Ruby is here as part of our collaboration with London Southbank Centre’s WOW – Women of the World – festival, which we’re thrilled to be launching in Australia. Feminist and author, Naomi Wolf, delves into sex and creativity, Cheryl Strayed of Dear Sugar and Wild fame, shares her advice on life and love with Sydney audiences, and these are just a few of the fabulous women on the program.

Film icon, writer and ‘silk-voiced jazz chanteuse’, Molly Ringwald, comes to Sydney to share her eclectic work with us. Her first novel, When it Happens to You, explores love, betrayal and the intricacies of the human heart. Molly and her band will close the Festival in style with an evening of jazz, in homage to the great American songbook.

Down at the wharves, Pat Grant and Leigh Rigozzi create a drawing spectacle, alongside installations and parading poets. By night, the Festival Club returns, with The Chaser team and a fine selection of writers and musicians brought together by Eddie Sharp. At Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre, don’t miss the genius performance poets, Kate Tempest and Anis Mojgani, and Daniel Morden who will enthrall you with gypsy tales from the woods of Wales. In the city, there’s poetry on one of the last places you’d expect – curated by the winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, Luke Davies. Check our blog for daily posts and interviews, from writer-in-residence, Josephine Rowe.On Sunday, we have family activities in the spectacular Big Top for Little People. Australia’s Dreaming will come alive with Aboriginal storytellers and music, and Archie Roach will launch his illustrated songbook.

This year, Sydney Writers’ Festival brings together an exhilarating selection of storytellers who will delight, inform and entertain. So come along, sit back, and let us tell you a story. 

Jemma Birrell
Artistic director