Miranda Tapsell is a shining light in the constellation of Australian performers. She brings strength and pathos to every role she inhabits — whether that's Cynthia in The Sapphires or in a dual role as both Gillyagan and Muruli in Andrew Bovell's theatrical adaptation of The Secret River.

This year, Miranda joins the Festival as a panellist to celebrate Blerd (or black nerd) culture. Alongside an all-star panel including Colson Whitehead, Roxane Gay, Nayuka Gorrie and Cleverman creator Ryan Griffen, this session invites you to unleash your inner geek amongst the best possible company. Read on for Miranda's Festival picks

I'm so excited for this year's Sydney Writers' Festival as it's my first year as a panellist. It's an absolute honour to be a part of such an incredible line-up alongside such an inclusive and varied array of talent! Here are my five top picks of what to see — I should add that these are not in order of most favourites to least favourite, as I have never operated this way. I have too many favourites and I can’t choose. Thank god I got to pick five!

Elaine Welteroth: On Editing Teen Vogue

This woman sounds like an absolute powerhouse. As the editor Teen Vogue, she's really turned the magazine on its head by presenting issues that young women face outside of beauty, fashion and dating. One of the major things she highlighted was the North Dakota Direct access pipeline which affected the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's river system. Go queen.

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad

I'm very privileged to be on a panel with this man on Blerd Culture on Thursday night. I've just started reading his astounding new book, The Underground Railroad. Set in the mid-19th century in the US on a Southern cotton plantation, I've had a few visceral reactions to some of the hectic violence and oppression the slaves are under in the first few chapters. But I love that the protagonist Cora is a strong and intelligent Black woman, who is keen not to be a victim of her circumstance. His writing is potent and I can’t help but be frightened and intrigued by Cora’s quest for freedom. At the height of its utility, nearly 1000 slaves per year escaped from slave-holding states using the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe-houses leading to free states and Canada, where slavery was prohibited. When another slave by the name of Caesar asks Cora to run away with him, she grabs the opportunity with both hands. But will she and Ceasar make it? I can’t wait to finish it, and I look forward to hearing Colson’s perspective on his work.

'When I finished her latest book 'Difficult Women', I burst into tears because she speaks to me in a way that no one has.'

— Miranda Tapsell on Roxane Gay

SWF Gala: Advice from Nasty Women

Sophie Black is hosting a panel with some incredible writers — Brit Bennett, Durga Chew-Bose, Viola Di Grado, Anita Heiss, Chris Kraus and Nadja Spiegelman. Cheekily reclaiming the term 'nasty woman' (after Trump call Hillary Clinton one), these intelligent and funny writers will show us how multifaceted women’s experiences are. Since most of these writers have other aspects of their identity that overlaps them as women — whether it be race, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — they have had tools that have helped them make their way through the world. They will give you insight on their life experiences and how it's informed them as the fierce women they are today.

Deng Adut: Songs of a War Boy

I first learned about Deng Adut when Nick Stathopoulos' portrait of him won the People’s Choice Award in the Archibald Prize last year. I was in awe of the portrait but heartbroken to hear about his history as a child soldier in Sudan. His story of becoming a lawyer in Australia after having graduated from Western Sydney is astonishing and I can’t wait to hear about his journey.

Roxane Gay: Difficult Women

I’m sure a lot of people coming to the Festival will be very familiar with Roxane Gay’s work and I am so happy she will be here. When I finished her latest book Difficult Women, I burst into tears because she speaks to me in a way that no one has. The ways she can articulate feelings of grief, frustrations and uncertainty resonates within me as an Aboriginal woman. Having her work in my life gives me strength in my own convictions when people question my experiences, and I know the way I feel isn’t wrong or negative. It just doesn’t fit the way the status quo wants it to. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say.

— Miranda Tapsell, actor

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