8 sessions not to miss at this year’s virtual Melbourne Writers Festival

Melbourne Writers Festival

Life finds a way. Or, in this case, literary festivals find a way. As with many sectors COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the publishing and literary communities in Australia. Plans have been disrupted with author tours, book events, award galas and now literary festivals having to be cancelled or venture online. Melbourne Writers Festival, one of the major events in Australia’s literary calendar, which kicks off this weekend, will be held completely virtually this year. 

The festival, which runs from August 7th to the 16th, will be accessible via the festival website. The festival program consists of video, audio and written content, and is made up of a mixture of On Demand sessions and Live Streamed events. The bulk of the program is on demand, with the sessions released to view at a scheduled time, and will then remain available for three hours after the listed start date and time. 

This year the festival are inviting patrons to ‘pay what you can’ to access most of the available sessions. There is the option to choose from $5, $10, $20 and $50 per ticket, or the option to make a free booking. According to the festival, the aim to reduce the barriers to accessing the program, whilst also giving the opportunity for those who are able to contribute to the continued survival of the festival. 

Whilst the festival may have gone digital, the program remains strong and diverse, with plenty of options to choose from across the board. The beauty of an online program is that there’s no time slot clashes. But, there’s still too much to choose from, so here are our picks for sessions not to miss at this year’s festival. 

Melbourne Writers Festival

After Australia

Sat Aug 8th | 2-3pm AEST | Book HERE

After Australia is a daring new collection of speculative fiction from twelve indigenous writers and writers of colour from across Australia, in which they offer up visions of Australia’s possible futures: after colonisation, after white supremacy, and after climate change. In this panel, contributors Claire G Coleman (Terra Nulius, The Old Lie) and Omar Sakr (The Lost Arabs) sit down with editor Michael Mohammed Ahmad to discuss their contributions and the broader aims of the provocative anthology. The panel will undoubtedly prove to be a thought-provoking, interesting and entertaining affair – much like the collection it’s there to discuss. 

Becky Manawatu: Auē

Sat Aug 8th | 5-6pm AEST | Book HERE

Auē is the award-winning debut novel from Ngāi Tahu author and journalist Becky Manawatu. Manawatu has been hailed a compelling new voice in New Zealand fiction, whilst Auē was Winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2020 and the MitoQ Best First Book of Fiction 2020. The novel is a gritty, social realist fiction centred on the lives of orphaned brothers; eight-year-old Arama and teenager Taukiri, and deals with themes of domestic violence, gang culture, fractured families and toxic masculinity. In this panel, Manawatu, will be in conversation with 2020 Miles Franklin winner Tara June Winch. 

Jing-Jing Lee: How We Disappeared

Sun Aug 9th | 4-5pm AEST | Book HERE

We are huge fans of Jing-Jing Lee and her novel How We Disappeared here at the AU. In fact, one of our book reviewers Jodie described it as her “gut-punch read of the year” in our 2019 end of year wrap up. How We Disappeared is part enthralling family mystery and part meticulously researched exposé of a dark chapter in history. In this panel Singaporean-born author Jing-Jing Lee will be in conversation with Adolfo Aranjuez to discuss her powerful debut novel. This is not to be missed. 

Clare Bowditch: Your Own Kind Of Girl

Mon Aug 10th | 8-9pm AEST | Book HERE

The multi-talented Clare Bowditch joins Jess McGuire to chat about her award-winning memoir Your Own Kind of Girl. Published in late 2019, Your Own Kind of Girl is a big-hearted and surprisingly candid, even for a memoir. Bowditch details the triumphs and tragedies and loves and losses that have seen her become one of Australia’s best-loved storytellers and performers, with brutal honest and great humour. Musicians often make great festival guests, certainly they’re rarely short of an amusing anecdote or two, so we’d definitely recommend tuning in for this session. 

Take It From Me

Fri Aug 14th | 8-9pm AEST | Book HERE

I see a Law on a festival program and I have to click. This time you get twice the Law for your money too. Siblings Benjamin Law and Michelle Law join forces with host Jess McGuire to help solve the iso-love conundrums and long-distance lockdown blues of participants from across the country (and maybe even further). Expect plenty of laughs, a good dose of vulgarity, and hopefully some pretty solid agony aunt advice along the way too. For those wanting to participate you can anonymously submit your queries/question/current catastrophes in advance HERE. Otherwise, sit back with a cocktail or two and be quietly judgemental. 

Brit Bennett: The Vanishing Half

Sat Aug 15th | 7-8pm AEST | Book HERE

Brit Bennett is one of the authors of the moment. Her new book The Vanishing Half is all over the literary related Insta-feeds and YouTube channels. It’s also a favourite of ours here at the AU, with reviewer Emily describing it as “perfectly paced, engaging, and is every bit as good as the hype will have led you to believe.” In this session Bennett sits down with Areej Nur to discuss the novel, an expansive, multi-generational saga that dramatically exposes racial inequality and the emotional stakes of identity. A timely and important session, that’s not to be missed. 

Melbourne Writers Festival

An Evening With Elizabeth Strout

Sat Aug 15th | 8-9pm AEST | Book HERE

Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout sits down with Kate Torney to discuss her career, her craft, and her decision to revisit one of her best loved characters, Olive, after ten years. Olive was introduced to readers over a decade ago in the 2008 novel Olive Kitteridge, the novel would go on to win Strout the Pulitzer. Last year Strout revisited the cantankerous heroine in the Olive, Again to rave reviews. The session offers a rare opportunity to hear a master storyteller discuss her craft – this is certainly one for the aspiring authors and creative writers.  

Melbourne Writers Festival

The Language of Animals

Sun Aug 16th | 12-1pm AEST | Book HERE

What would happen if we could understand what animals were saying? This is something Chris Flynn (Mammoth), Erin Hortle (The Octopus and I) and Laura Jean McKay (The Animals in That Country) have all explored in their latest books. Each of these books and authors have explored this question with fascinating and occasionally humorous results. These works form part of a growing trend in ecological fiction, they poses inventive and urgent questions about not only what it means to be human, but also our impact on, and our place in the world. If their books are anything to go by, this should prove to be a fascinating and enjoyable session.  

The 2020 Melbourne Writers Festival runs from Friday August 7th until Sunday August 16th. The festival will be held entirely virtually. To explore the entire program, to find out more information and to purchase tickets visit the festival website HERE.

Header and Body Image sourced from Melbourne Writers Festival website

Thanks to Emily and Jodie for their contributions to this article.

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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