The Only Guide You Need to the Best of the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023

An image showing a talk at the sydney writers festival 2023

As the sun rises on another glorious week in Sydney, a wave of excitement is cresting in the literary community. Today, Monday, May 22, marks the beginning of the highly anticipated Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023, a week-long celebration of words, ideas, and imagination.

Centred around the iconic Carriageworks, Sydney Town Hall and the festival hub in Parramatta, the festival promises to deliver a captivating tapestry of literary brilliance. With a diverse programme of nearly 300 writers and thinkers, this year’s festival digs into the theme of ‘stories for the future’.

Four Booker Prize winners and a two-time Pulitzer Prize recipient are amongst the 2023 cohort dissecting the chaos of the past few years and discussing how words can help us navigate the challenges of the future.

Throughout the week, 226 thought-provoking events will take place across the city that can be accessed in person or digitally from the comfort of your own home if you can’t make the trip. Live and Local streams are also taking place in communities from Orange to Cessnock and as far away as Darwin.

National and international literary heavyweights — including Tim Winton, Bernadine Everisto, and Julia Gillard — will be gracing the stages alongside contemporary firebrands like Clementine Ford, Grace Tame, and Nessa Turnbull-Roberts. Everything from true crime, to podcasting, novels, comedy, and ChatGPT are up for debate, offering something inspiring for everyone.

So, make sure you’re lining up something literary this week as we embark on the 26th annual Sydney Writers’ Festival. Here’s what’s in store.

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023 Dates

Kinging off on Monday, May 22 and running through to Sunday, May 28, the festival will transform the city into a vibrant hub of literary exploration.

Following the opening night address, the events really start to fill space in the diary from Thursday, May 26 onwards. If you’re thinking of booking days off work, these would be the dates to do so.

An image showing the outside of Carriageworks, the centre of the Sydney Writers Festival
Image: Sydney Writers’ Festival

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023 Program

As mentioned, the lineup this year is absolutely stacked. The complete programme can be accessed online here or in physical form at any of the dozens of stockists around greater Sydney.

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023 Highlights

There is only so much time in the day and only so far your mind can be expanded in one sitting. So, to help you make sure you hit all the highlights, here’s what we’re backing as the must-see at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year.

On May 23, internationally acclaimed crime writer Jane Harper, author of The Dry and The Last Man, will be talking with Michaela Kalowski about her new bookExiles, a continuation of the story of Aaron Falk. The federal cop protagonist of The Dry, played by Eric Bana in the big-screen adaptation, is up against new challenges in her next hit.

Later on, the Opening Night Address sees Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo join Benjamin Law and Alexis Wright to explore how the past can help us shape the future through storytelling. This will be followed by a performance from non-binary feminist poet Madison Godfrey reading their revolutionary verse.

For an eminently on-topic discussion, check out Jenny Odell: Resisting the Attention Economy. This UNSW-presented chat with Toby Walsh and Emma A Jane gets into the nitty gritty of how humble individuals can resist the might of the Silicon Valley algorithms.

On Thursday, 25 May, things really heat up. On the sustainability front, you’ve got climate experts talking hope and change with the founder of Climate 200, Simon Holmes à Court. There is also the acclaimed British climate activist author George Monbiot in a live conversation on how we can switch up our agricultural systems to ensure a sustainable food future for all.

Future Shocks, a discussion featuring Professor Norman Swan, Toby Walsh, and Joelle Gergis, digs into how we can prepare for the coming triple threat of climate breakdown, an aging population, and the rise of AI machines.

The ‘Your Favourites’ Favourites’ series has some crackers on Thursday too. Top-of-their-game writers like Benjamin Law and Nakkiah Lui introduce you to who they’re reading in the form of debut novelist Tracy Lien and the above-mentioned performance poet Madison Godfrey.

Of course, you also can’t miss Indira Naidoo chatting to none other than the former PM, Julia Gillard, about her new book Not Now, Not Ever, a reflection on ten years of gender relations following her infamous and blistering speech in Parliament.

An image showing the inside of Carriageworks, the heart of the Sydney Writers Festival
Image: Sydney Writers’ Festival

To cap off your Thursday, catch radio presenter Ricard Fidler and best-selling author and Oxford Professor Peter Frankopan as they discuss the rich lessons history can teach our uncertain present. You’ll probably recognise Frankopan as the author of Silk Roads: A New History of the World. Proper smarts.

Friday, 26 May is, for better or worse, equally packed. Colson Whitehead is the pick for today if you can only do one — the first author to win back-to-back Pulitzers for his books The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys will be talking to The Monthly Editor, Michael Williams about his in-progress fiction trilogy.

Back that up with something completely different in Love Sermon, a musical performance from jazz singer Libby O’Donovan interspersed with the learned musing of Australia’s most outspoken feminist author, Clementine Ford. Together the pair dive into the many forms that love takes and how it makes its home in our hearts.

Leading journalist Stan Grant brings his deep meditations on Australia, its First Nations people, and our potential future as a republic to bear on the British Monarchy in what is sure to be an unmissable talk. Fresh from his resignation as Q+A host following allegations of relentless racism, Grant is sure to have a lot to say in his talk, The Queen is Dead.

Saturday, 27 May has some equally not-to-be-missed events. Check out OK Boomer, an examination of why Millenials and Gen Z are getting royally screwed by comedian Tom Ballard, writer Alison Pennington, and economist Richard Holden.

Then hit up Crime and Justice, a discussion between Australian literary giant Helen Garner and investigative podcaster Hedly Thomas of The Teachers Pet fame. If that’s your bag, Podmania: Crime on the Record is also worth checking out — an exchange on how podcasting is shaping storytelling in the 21st century with industry heavyweights Patrick Abbout, Kate McClymront, and Ruby Jones. Thomas will also be here for this one.

Speaking of Australian literary giants, Don Watson will be chatting to Laura Tingle about his life, career, and new book The Passion of Private White which delves into the fragile history of this land.

Fragile histories are also the theme of the day in Andrey Kurkov: Diary of an Invasion. This talk, with Matt Bevan, sees the celebrated Ukrainian novelist discuss his on-the-ground account of the Russian war on his homeland.

For something a little lighter, don’t miss legendary actor Sam Neill sharing passages from his witty new memoir Did I Ever Tell You This? The Jurrasic Park star will be bringing the laughs on stage with Bryan Brown.

And for equally iconic chat, check out Real Selves, a four-way discussion between some of Australia’s most fearsome women. Chloé Hayden, Sasha Kutabah Sarago, and
Grace Tame gets into breaking down barriers through authenticity under the moderation of Hannah Diviney.

Bringing it all together with a bang on Sunday, 28 May starts with Osman Faruqi on Australia’s War Against Hip Hop. The Sydney Morning Herald Culture Editor uncovers the Australian police’s long-standing hostility towards Black and Brown music in this Curiosity Lecture.

Journalist and author Brigid Delaney teams up with Worimi storyteller Paul Callaghan to bring you some practical applications of ancient truths in Wisdom of the Ages. Perfect for anyone seeking a bit of tried and tested guidance on how to live well.

Summing it up in State of the Nation, leading political commentators Barrie Cassidy, Katherine Murphy, Niki Savva, and Laura Tingle get together to break down the past year in politics to give you a sense of just what the hell is going on right now.

And for further groundbreaking guidance, Stan Grant and Teela Reid get real on the Voice to Parliament in Reckoning, Not Reconciliation – asking whether the upcoming referendum ushers in a new era for Australian Democracy.

More Indigenous achievement is on full display at We Called Them Uncle: Archie Roach and Jack Charles. This panel sees a select lineup of activists and advocates celebrate the lives of these two First Nations cultural leaders who left us in the past year.

Last but certainly not least will be the Closing Night Address, this year delivered by the literary mainstay, Richard Flanagan, Booker Prize winner for The Narrow Road to the Deep North and one of Australia’s greatest living authors. He’ll be waxing lyrical about the power of storytelling for shaping our future.

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2023 Tickets

If the above has incited a literary itch you just have to scratch, you’ll want to head to those links to secure your tickets. You can do the same on the full events page by clicking through each one. Tickets can also be booked at the Carriageworks box office on the day but, of course, they may sell out before you get there.

Ticket prices for the Sydney Writers’ Festival vary considerably, but most sit at around $15 to $35. Concessions are available for people under 16, full-time students, health care card holders and pensioner concession card holders.

There are also around a third of the events under the free festival banner, meaning you just need to book a no-cost ticket to guarantee entry.

If you can’t make it down, a live stream ticket can be bought for $35 per day from Thursday to Sunday, giving you access to the entire day’s content.

Finally, failing all of that, the Sydney Writers Festival Podcast will be publishing select talks in the days and weeks following the live events.

Related: 10 Unmissable Vivid Ideas Exchange Talks That’ll Fuel Your Dinner Party Chat

Related: Everything You Need to See, Do, Eat and Explore at Vivid Sydney 2023

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