Overwhelmed with choice? Here are some suggestions from the person who knows the Program best — our Artistic Director Michaela McGuire.

Here, Michaela shares the events that she's most excited to see, from gala events featuring the biggest names on the Program to intimate readings from local favourites.

American Carnage

Four months into Donald Trump’s presidency, some of the world’s finest minds will come together to attempt to explain what the current state of play is. Slate editor-in-chief Julia Turner will lead a not-to-be-missed discussion with acclaimed authors George Saunders, Colson Whitehead and data editor of The Guardian US Mona Chalabi.

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad

One of the biggest books of the past year, and winner of the National Book award, Colson Whitehead’s seventh book counts Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey among its many fans. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins will adapt this extraordinary and affecting novel into a one-hour drama series for Amazon.

Peter Polites: Down the Hume

Another of this year’s Guest Curators is Peter Polites, whose debut Down the Hume is a queer noir, set squarely in his native Western Sydney. Peter’s one of the most exciting writers of the moment, and it’s a real treat to hear his note-perfect dialogue, that weaves snatches of slang, Greek and the migrant milieu of outer Sydney seamlessly together, read aloud.

SWF Gala: Origin Story

In this special event, some of the Festival’s most celebrated guests will discuss intimate and varied influences, offering an insight into what shaped them as writers and informed some of today’s important literary works. The international line-up features Tom Keneally, Robert Dessaix, Hannah Kent, Ian Rankin and Joy Williams.

Krissy Kneen: An Uncertain Grace

Krissy Kneen is one of Australia’s most inventive (and prolific) authors. The leaps she makes between each new book are hugely impressive, and she’s built a career on upending a reader’s assumptions about erotic fiction. Her latest novel interweaves five stories of speculative fiction, taking you on an adventure through time, space and sexuality and provoking questions of what it means to be human.

SWF Gala: Maybe This Will Help

After a week of conversations about the various terrible forces that compel us to seek refuge, we thought it wise to end the Festival on a hopeful note. In this special event, some of the Festival’s most distinguished guests reveal personal tips for these anxiety-inducing times; from chicken soup to Valium. Sofija Stefanovic will talk to Bill Hayes, Hisham Matar, Pamela Paul, Ivan Coyote and Ruth Quibell about remedies for chaos.


In times of enormous social and political upheaval, the role of artists and writers becomes even more important. Slate’s movie critic Dana Stevens talks to Hisham Matar (acclaimed author of The Return), Nadja Spiegelman (I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This) and editor of Teen Vogue Elaine Welteroth about resistance through art.

Not to Scale: Numbers and the Immigration Debate

Mona Chalabi is the data editor of The Guardian US and a former columnist at New York Magazine where she wrote a regular advice column called “Dear Mona” which answered readers’ questions about anything from jury service to dating habits using numbers rather than personal experience. In this illustrated talk, Mona will bring hard facts to the global immigration debate, to help us understand the actual risks migrants pose, and their potential contribution to society.

Not Waving, Drowning

Festival Guest Curator Ellen van Neerven has designed a series of events that examine sacrifice, and this session will explore how writers and artists should respond to the intersecting issues around climate change, water rights and refugees.

— Michaela McGuire, Artistic Director