What We're Reading / May 2023

The Writing NSW team is heading to Sydney Writers’ Festival! Check out what we’re most excited to see, and give us the strength to not spend every dollar we have on books.

Please note, the Writing NSW office will be closed on Friday 26 May.


Opening Night Address: How the Past Shapes the Future 

Jane McCredie, CEO

I’m really looking forward to the opening night event, featuring Alexis Wright, Bernadine Evaristo and Benjamin Law. My favourite events are those that bring together brilliant people who you might not expect to see sharing a stage, and this looks like being one of them. 

It’s always a privilege to hear from Alexis Wright, whose sweeping saga, Carpentaria, gave us a new vision of what Australian stories could be. The book is a linguistic triumph, weaving together vernacular speech with passages of poetic lyricism to paint a complex picture of the Gulf region. The violent history of dispossession shadows, but never eclipses, the vigorous culture of the area’s First Peoples. 

I’ve just finished Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker-winning novel, Girl, Woman, Other. Each of the 12 interlinked chapters in the book features a different character, most of them black British women, all of them captivating in their own way. The stories are smart, nuanced, sad and funny, and I can’t wait to hear Evaristo tell us more about the writing of them.

And then there’s Benjamin Law, who can be relied on to bring wit, insight and humanity to any conversation. 

I can’t wait to see what the three of them create together and, as a bonus, the event will end with a performance from West Australian poet Madison Godfrey. 

Opening Night Address: How the Past Shapes the Future – Tuesday 23 May


Amy Lovat, Program Manager

From Mudgee to Newcastle to Brisbane, I sometimes feel like I’ve followed Maeve Marsden’s Queerstories event series throughout the country. It never fails to be a fantastic evening balancing stories of both joy and vulnerability, and there’s always at least one speaker I haven’t heard of before. 

The concept of Queerstories began as ‘There’s more to being queer than coming out and getting married’, and that’s certainly true in my experience of attending these events. Each speaker shares unique stories — sometimes of their favourite item of clothing, other times of their parents’ divorce or their transition — with laughs and tears aplenty.

I’m excited to attend Queerstories as part of the 2023 festival. This year, Australian performer Courtney Act (Shane Jenek) will share their story, as well as US writer Daniel Lavery (author of one of my fave books Something That May Shock and Discredit You), Leanne Yong, Sophie Cunningham and Canadian First Nations poet Joshua Whitehead.

Queerstories – Thursday 25 May

Markus Zusak and Great Adaptations

Rowena Tuziak, Membership and Operations Manager

My Sydney Writers’ Festival picks this year are all about adaptations, starting with Markus Zusak: Bringing The Messenger to the Screen. The internationally best-selling author of The Book Thief is joined by award-winning writer and producer Sarah Lambert to discuss their television adaptation of Zusak’s acclaimed novel The Messenger, in conversation with Film and TV critic Wenlei Ma. I’ve always wondered what it’s like for an author to hand over creative control to a screenwriter. I’m keen to hear how they navigated that process and where the lines were drawn.

Lambert was also writer and showrunner for the television adaptation of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland starring Sigourney Weaver. In my next pick I’ll be seeing Holly Ringland chatting about that adaptation as part of the Great Adaptations panel discussion. Alongside Ringland is Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries, and Tom Rob Smith, author of the Child 44 trilogy. They’ll be discussing what it’s like having their works adapted for screen and adapting the work of others. The panel is chaired by one of my festival favourites, Benjamin Law.

Markus Zusak: Bringing The Messenger to the Screen – Thursday 25 May

Great Adaptations – Saturday 27 May

Future Fictions 

Adara Enthaler, Project & Communications Officer 

As an avid fantasy reader, a great deal of what I read is set in a fictional past, but with our Speculative Fiction Festival coming up, I’m finding myself compelled to look forward, which is why I immediately booked a ticket to the Future Fictions panel.

Grace Chan and Tom Rob Smith are both acclaimed speculative-fiction authors who have written very different accounts of what the future might hold. The genre is well-placed to provide a lens through which the authors both ask and answer questions about technology, climate and human relationships, which Grace and Tom have done excellently through their books Every Version of You and Cold People.

Whilst Chan’s debut novel is a gentle and haunting exploration of change, love, and loss through virtual reality and mind-uploading, questioning what it means to be human, bestselling author Smith’s latest is a suspenseful and fast-paced novel about a colony of global apocalypse survivors seeking to reinvent civilisation under the most extreme conditions imaginable.

I’m looking forward to hearing them discuss their wildly different yet equally compelling narratives of future lives and the people who live them, in conversation with Beejay Silcox.

Future Fictions – Friday 26 May

André Dao and Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Rochelle Pickles, Professional Development Officer

What I love most about the Sydney Writers’ Festival is the opportunity to discover and hear from debut authors as their first book baby is released into the world. While André Dao is an experienced writer with previously published work in Meanjin, Sydney Review of Books, Griffith Review, The Monthly and more — Anam is his debut novel, released earlier this month after winning the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2021. 

Anam is described as a unique blend of literary fiction and memoir, telling the story of a grandson learning his family’s history, from 1930s Hanoi, through war and displacements to Saigon, Paris, Melbourne and Cambridge.  

André is joined by Vietnamese best-selling author, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, who has published twelve books in Vietnamese and English, the most recent of which is Dust Child, released in March this year. Dust Child is a contemporary fiction novel braiding together three distinct stories of inherited trauma, set during the war and in present-day Vietnam. 

I’m looking forward to the authors’ discussion on the shared themes of their new books, moderated by our Boundless 2023 mentor Sheila Ngoc Pham. Both books are already receiving some fantastic reviews and I’m looking forward to picking up my copies at the festival—I might even line up for a cheeky signing. 

André Dao and Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai – Friday 26 May

The Rhythm of the Word 

Elliot Cameron, Membership & Administration Officer 

Among the many impacts the arts has faced these past few years, one of the biggest for me was the ramifications for Australia’s diverse and passionate spoken word scene. Truly an artform of the people, it seemed poetry slams and readings were among the quickest to pivot – and indeed flourish – in the move to online performances. However, as excellent as those digital divulgences were, I have always felt the inherently autobiographical nature of spoken word demands a live audience in a way that is harder to substitute than many other artforms. There’s an immediacy at play there that is only truly communicated if the writer and the audience are in the same room. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience Madison Godfrey’s work in the same room as them on several occasions, including at National Young Writers’ Festival and Bankstown Poetry Slam. I’m very much looking forward to doing so again at The Rhythm of the Word, and hearing work from their new poetry collection Dress Rehearsals, published by Allen & Unwin earlier this year. 

I’ve also been fortunate enough to experience Omar Sakr’s work in person, including pieces from his 2019 collection The Lost Arabs (UQP), which won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry. Omar has since released a debut novel, Son of Sin (Affirm Press), published in 2022, and I’m curious to see if and how this experience of publishing a novel has informed his writing for spoken word.

Madison and Omar are joined by award-winning international writers Dr Anthony Joseph, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, and Joshua Whitehead as they share insight into the art form and perform live readings of their work. 

The Rhythm of the Word – Friday 26 May

More from Writing NSW

Check out our full range of in-person writing courses in Sydney, our online writing courses and our feedback programs to see how we can help you on your writing journey. Find out about our grants and prizes, as well as writing groups across NSW, and sign up to our weekly newsletter for writing events, opportunities and giveaways.

Related Newsbites

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop