Young Indigenous Queensland writer Ellen Van Neerven has been one of Australia’s most exciting voices ever since she burst onto the literary scene in 2013, when she won the prestigious David Unaipon Award. The following year, her collection of short stories Heat and Light was received with eager acclaim.

Her assured poetry collection Comfort Food explores identity, sovereignty and the restless quest for love. In her Sydney Writers' Festival events, Ellen contemplates sacrifice — what are we willing to do to survive and help others to survive?

— Michaela McGuire, Artistic Director


I am so honoured that Michaela asked me to curate a slice of Sydney Writers' Festival this year. I'm speaking with amazing mob including Alison Whittaker, Witi Ihimaera, Rupi Kaur and Paul Beatty.

My question is sacrifice. I’m focusing this framework on three different areas: the environment, relationships and writing race. In Not Waving, Drowning, I’m speaking with Witi Ihimaera, Virginia Marshall and Hannah Donnelly about water rights; in Tough Love: Writing Complex Relationships, I'm talking to Peter Polites, Anuk Arudpragasam, and Rupi Kaur; and in Writing Race I'm speaking with Maxine Beneba Clarke, Paul Beatty and Roanna Gonsalves.


'We all should have deep concerns about the present, and the future, and the traumas of the past.'

— Ellen van Neerven, guest curator

As a Mununjali woman, I am so conscious of the tremendous fighting spirit of my people and ancestors and contemporaries and the way we fight for each other.

There are also two events that heighten community — First Nations: Voices of the Matriarchy, with four amazing deadly women writers Evelyn Araluen, Hannah Donnelly, Nayuka Gorrie and Alison Whittaker; and The Big Black Thing, a launch of an anthology of writing from Western Sydney’s culturally diverse, migrant and Indigenous school kids.

The last event I’m involved in is a one-on-one with the eminent Stan Grant about my latest book, Comfort Food. I am looking forward to these dialogues and the responses to sacrifice.

— Ellen van Neerven, Guest Curator