Fifty-three international guests will join 124 interstate authors, journalists, scientists, and public intellectuals for this year’s festival, McGuire’s fourth as director. Each, in some way, are writing and fighting to halt the clock’s forward movement, McGuire says, elevating scientific fact over careless rhetoric and disinformation.
McGuire is launching the program on the same day as the World Health Organisation has declared coronavirus COVID-19 a global pandemic.
“It’s a strange and concerning world in which to be launching a festival, and although I wish that this program wasn’t quite so prescient, I’m also glad that Sydney Writers’ Festival has a reputation for tackling the world’s most urgent issues, with intelligence and great heart.”
McGuire and the festival’s chief executive officer Chrissy Sharp said festival organisers were cautiously proceeding but recognised it was a “concerning time for everyone and that we need to adapt accordingly”.
The health and safety of authors, publishers, audiences, staff, volunteers and all attendees would be the festival’s first and foremost priority.
“We have noted the cancellation of a number of international literary and public events over the last few weeks,” they said. “The situation is developing rapidly, and we are following worldwide updates as well as the advice of the Australian government, NSW government, the chief medical officer, and WHO.”
Celebrated US author of The Dutch House, Ann Patchett, has been a late apology due to these uncertain times.
But the festival itself will be a timely focus on cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns threatening global democratic institutions, while shedding light on inner workings of Russia, Iran, Trump’s White House and Hong Kong.
Nobel Prize-nominated founder of the Umbrella Movement Joshua Wong will discuss the future of Hong Kong by video link after the territory’s courts refused him the return of his passport to attend the festival.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig and White House bureau chief Philip Rucker will discuss their behind the scenes account of Trump’s shambolic first term.
Unpicking the incendiary political warfare around climate change will be Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s 29th prime minister, who will speak to his upcoming memoir A Bigger Picture at Sydney’s Town Hall on May 4, while former Greens leader Bob Brown will be in conversation with Scott Ludlum about his new book, Planet Earth.
McGuire predicts one of the runaway hits of the festival will be Anna Wiener, who paints a sobering account of Silicon Valley hi-tech cowboys in her memoir Uncanny Valley.
2019 Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo will open the festival with Gomeroi poet and award-winning author of Blakwork, Alison Whittaker. Other highlights include Lisa Taddeo (Three Women), Eimear McBride (Strange Hotel), Kevin Wilson (Nothing to See Here) and Irish writer Colum McCann, whose epic novel Apeirogon tells of an unexpected friendship between a Palestinian and Israeli.
The life and works of Clive James will be celebrated by his friends and fellow writers, Kathy Lette, Paul Muldoon, Peter Goldsworthy, and Richard Glover, who will reminisce and read their favourite works.
Australian authors featured include Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu and Salt), Miranda Tapsell (Top End Girl), Tara June Winch (The Yield), Archie Roach (Tell Me Why), Heather Rose (Bruny), Vicki Laveau-Harvie (The Erratics), Clare Bowditch (Your Own Kind of Girl), Shaun Micallef (Mad As Hell and Back) and Craig Foster and Hakeem al-Araibi (Fighting for Hakeem).
Graphic novelists Dav Pilkey, creator of Dog Man series, and New York Times bestseller Raina Telgemeier will lead children’s events.
Running from April 27 to May 3, the festival events will be spread between Carriageworks and Seymour Centre, and across other Sydney venues.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald