Six things I learnt at the 2017 Sydney Writer’s Festival

Every year, Sydney puts on a huge writer’s festival. It’s the biggest one in Australia, where authors, writers, thinkers and listeners come together to talk about books, idea and the world we live in today.

The festival attracts local and international speakers and always brings up amazing and nuanced debates about some sticky subjects. Here are some of the ideas I came away with after attending this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival.

Nostalgia is a privilege

The Opening Gala this year brought together Brit Bennet, Anne Enright and George Saunders to discuss the idea of ‘Refuge’- which was the overall theme of this year’s festival. Brit Bennet, who is an American author, spoke about how she believes that nostalgia is not only a privilege but is a powerful form of refuge for those who are lucky enough to have it. Australia can still be a lucky country

Australia can still be a lucky country

Rebecca Huntley sat down with Jenny Valentish to talk about her new book ‘Still Lucky; Why you should feel optimistic about Australia and it’s people.’

Rebecca, who is an expert in social research, talked about Australian attitudes to housing, work, the next generation, relationships and politics. She told us that while there are a few things that could probably do with changing, we are actually doing a pretty good job. In short, Rebecca thinks we still have a lot to feel lucky about in Australia.

It was really interesting to hear about the research and the findings, and also reassuring to hear that we aren’t really doing that bad. Sure, it’s all doom and gloom in the media, but someone needed to point out that really, in the scheme of things, Aussies aren’t really doing that bad.

We need to give teenage girls more credit

There is constantly talk about teenagers in the media and in communities. We eat too much, sleep too much and spend way too much time staring at screens. But I can assure you, if you were at the event with Elaine Welteroth, who is the Editor In Chief of Teen Vogue in the US, you would think differently.

Elaine spoke eloquently and passionately about how intelligent and clever teenage girls are; about campaigns she has done with girls from different cultural backgrounds and girls who hope to change the world. She addressed how shocked people were when they discovered that Teen Vogue gave young girls unbiased, intelligent explainers on Trump and other world events, and talked about how we constantly underestimate young girls.

In the last 15 minutes of her session, teenage girls in school uniforms who had come straight from school found the courage within themselves to ask her questions. Not ‘where is your outfit from’ but questions about the big wide world we live in. They proved Elaine right on every point she had made about teen girls, and it was so uplifting to see.

Elaine Welteroth speaks to a packed theatre about what it is like to edit Teen Vogue (Image supplied)

Sometimes your next big opportunity is right around the corner (if you are lucky enough to find it) 

Jamie Morton, creator of ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ flew to Sydney to talk about how his famous podcast came to be. From his father telling him about the erotic novel he had written at Christmas, to showing his friends, all they way to where they are now, Jamie talked about how he knew it was good from the reactions he got from his friends.

It just goes to show that sometimes, your next big thing could be right in front of you; with a bit of intuition and a good group of mates, you might also be able to make the Next Big Thing.

We need to have a conversation about end of life care

Nikki Gemmel, author of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ spoke on a panel with doctors and euthanasia advocates about her mother, Elayn, who ended her life after dealing with chronic pain for many years.

An interesting point that was raised by the panel was that in Australia, doctors do not have conversations with their parents about end of life care. Palliative care is available to those who are terminally ill, but patients are not able to elect to end their lives on their terms, even if they are living with a chronic, debilitating, terminal illness.

Everyone on the panel and most of the audience agreed that in order to provide the best medical care for Australians, voluntary euthanasia should be legalised, and doctors should be encouraged to have difficult conversations with their patients about how they want their life to end.

Meeting Pia Miranda
Meeting Pia Miranda/ Josie Alibrandi at the Sydney Writer’s Festival

Everyone loves ‘Looking For Alibrandi’

Okay, so maybe it is slightly grand to say that EVERYONE loves Looking For Alibrandi, but judging from the packed audience and the incredible panel the festival put together to talk about what Josie Alibrandi had meant to them, I’d wager a bet that most of us can resonate with Melina Marchetta’s iconic Australian character.

Between Pia Miranda’s incredible portrayal of Josie, and the Josie of the book itself, people told stories of how Josie’s character perfectly captured how they felt; as a teenager, as someone of Italian heritage, as someone from an overwhelming family, and every combination thereof.

It was really lovely to see so many people come together, 25 years since the book was first released, and reminisce about what Josie Alibrandi had meant to them.



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