Perth Festival’s 2020 Literature and Ideas program launches with a new curator and a minor revamp

Sisonke Msimang, the new curator for Perth Festival’s Literature and Ideas festival, delivered her full program for the late February event on Thursday night to an enthusiastic crowd at the Octagon Theatre.

Her program, designed around the concepts of ‘Land, Money, Power, and Sex’ has been curated with a goal of inviting a new intake of audience members, whilst still embracing the traditional audience pulled by Writers’ Festivals of years past—university educated, white women of forty and above, whom Msimang described with love as “those who buy lots of books, make great conversationalists and are highly influential in their communities”.

An energetic, and always delightfully stylish Msimang laid out her vision for a festival which would spark conversations and encourage us to extend loving hands of friendship to those beyond our own verandas. Of previous panel controversies, in which authors and speakers have been paired up in order to have them butt heads against one another, she said she could not think of anything more boring.

Those who have been disappointed by previous festivals in which sessions were shortened and breaks too quick to allow both a visit to the bathroom and a cup of coffee or a snack to be fetched rejoiced as she revealed that individual events would be going back up to sixty minutes, and that there would be a thirty-minute break between each to allow audience members to dissect and discuss what they had just heard.

Notable guests revealed on the night (not including Neil Gaiman and Bruce Pascoe, whose events had sold out or almost sold out) included international stars Tommy Orange, Long Litt Woon and Julia Phillips, alongside Australian writers Tara June Winch, Charlotte Wood, Heather Rose, Matt Okine and more. Local Western Australian writers were also well represented in the program, including rising star Holden Sheppard whose first novel Invisible Boys won the 2018 City of Fremantle TAG Hungerford Award.

The program this year is heavy on single-authored conversations. Although those who enjoy a panel will not be disappointed with offerings such as “Friends ‘til the End” in which Jane Caro, Long Litt Woon and Charlotte Wood talk to local author and ace interviewer, Annabel Smith about ageing, mourning and female friendship, and “How it Feels to be Free”, a discussion on place, belonging and justice from Bruce Pascoe, Len Collard and Tara June Winch, moderated by Bardi man, Ron Bradfield.

There are also a few new concepts coming to this year’s festival, including Slow Reads; story time for adults in the beautiful Tropical Grove, where authors read their work aloud to you. A Lit Crawl along Beaufort Street, and A Book, A Bus and a Bite, in which ticketholders will be driven to a themed meal location with the author of the chosen book and feast their tastebuds alongside their minds.

There is much to take in from this year’s festival so get your program early and grab your pens and highlighters to start mapping out your weekend. And for those of you who can’t decide, here are my picks:

Perth Festival Arif Anwar
The Storm
Saturday 22nd Feb | 10am | Theatre Auditorium

Arif Anwar in discussion with WA Premier’s Award Winner Renee-Pettitt-Schipp about his debut novel.

Perth Festival Julia Phillips

Disappearing Earth
Saturday 22nd Feb | 11am | Banquet Hall

Julia Phillips in discussion with Jo Trilling about her critically acclaimed debut novel Disappearing Earth. A conversation about Russia, girls who disappear and Phillips’ fresh literary take on crime fiction.

Perth Festival Prize and Prejudice

Prize and Prejudice
Saturday 22nd Feb | 0930am | Octagon Theatre

Melissa Lucashenko, Heather Rose and Josephine Wilson discuss prizes, money and whether those things matter with Meri Fatin.

Perth Festival Elizabeth Bryer

From Here on Monsters
Saturday 22nd Feb | 1pm | Murdoch Lecture Theatre

Elizabeth Bryer talks to Emma Young about her debut novel, a modern mystery about a missing academic.

Perth Festival Chike Frankie Edozien

The Lives of Great Men
Sunday 23rd Feb | 230pm | Ampitheatre

Chike Frankie Edozien talks to Holden Sheppard about his award-winning memoir of growing up gay in West Africa.

Perth Festival Matt Okine

Being Black N Chicken & Chips
Sunday 23rd Feb | 1130am | Amphitheatre

Matt Okine talks to Ben Jenkins about his new novel, comedy, and fighting the impetus not to cry.

Perth Festival Sanam Maher

A Woman Like Her
Sunday 23rd Feb | 1pm | Murdoch Lecture Theatre

Sanam Maher tells the story of the killing of the woman known as Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian in conversation with Zainab Syed.

Perth Festival Catherine Noske

The Salt Madonna
Sunday 23rd Feb | 230pm | Theatre Auditorium

Catherine Noske, known for being the editor of Westerly, chats to Rosemary Sayer about her debut novel.

And of course, you can catch me there talking about my debut book of short stories, Well-Behaved Women. I’ll be reading in the Tropical Grove on Saturday from 1.15pm. Or in the Alexander Lecture Theatre at 3.30pm on the Sunday, talking to the incredible Michelle Johnston about the modern expectations put on women in Australia. What are you still reading this for? Go buy some tickets, and I’ll see you there.

Perth Festival’s Literature and Ideas program runs across Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd February at the University of Western Australia’s Crawley campus. You can download a copy of the complete program HERE.

Header and Body Images sourced from Perth Festival official website and social media. Header Image of Sisonke Msimang by Jessica Wyld Photography

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller, and now works as a librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.