From 29 April—5 May, some of the world's leading literary luminaries and public intellectuals will come together to examine this year's theme, 'Lie to Me'. From white lies to grand deceptions — what are the fictions we tell ourselves, to each other, as a collective? And, as writers and readers, what is our power to cut through them?
As children, we are told "we are all born equal". Perhaps it's unsurprising, then, that as we grow, we become seemingly less tolerant of the differences between us. Yet whilst we are equally deserving – irrespective of gender, race, geography, sexuality or physicality – we are not all born with a clean slate. The broader systems, legal frameworks and institutions that shape our society are fundamental to the rights and opportunities we are afforded.
Showcasing the speakers whose stories remind us that, for some, birthright is an unearned privilege, we've curated our favourite sessions that ask us to reconsider childhood narratives.
Future D. Fidel: Prizefighter, 3 May, 11:30am
Fleeing the Congo as an orphan, Future D. Fidel spent years in a Tanzanian refugee camp before finding freedom in Australia. Prize Fighter draws on this past to tell the fictional story of a Congolese child soldier forced to fight for the forces that massacred his family before escaping to Australia, where he becomes a talented boxer. In conversation with Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Future discusses his hope-filled debut novel – based on his critically acclaimed play – that packs an emotional punch.
Suffragettes, Referenda and Sausages: The History of Democracy in Australia, 2 May, 4:30pm
The ABC’s Annabel Crabb talks with celebrated historian Judith Brett and Stella Prize–winning author and historian Clare Wright about Australia’s democratic history and how compulsory voting affects our politics. They touch on our trailblazing history of suffrage and voting rights for white women, and the shameful delay in attendant rights for Indigenous people. Clare’s You Daughters of Freedom relates the largely untold struggles and victories of Australian suffragettes, while Judith’s From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage portrays the character of our democracy.
The Second Shelf, 3 May, 8:30pm
Five acclaimed female writers examine the invalidation of women’s writing on the grounds of gender. Meg Wolitzer (The Wife), Kristen Roupenian (You Know You Want This: Cat Person and Other Stories), Michelle Law (Single Asian Female), Olivia Sudjic (Exposure and Sympathy) and Krissy Kneen (Wintering) talk to Rebecca Harkins-Cross about why their lives, rather than their works, attract so much scrutiny.
Poetic Justice, 4 May, 11:30am
Before she was forced to flee to America, Dunya Mikhail was the literary editor of the Baghdad Observer. Renowned for her subversive, innovative and satirical lyrics and fables, Dunya’s award-winning poetry explores war, exile, love and loss. She speaks with Michael Kelleher about her prolific body of work, using metaphor and symbolism to evade censorship in Iraq, the perniciousness of self-censorship in the West, and why she says “poetry is not medicine [but] an X-ray”.
Jenny Erpenbeck: Go, Went, Gone, 4 May, 3pm
Jenny Erpenbeck’s masterful new novel Go, Went, Gone explores the sometimes fraught and always complex relationship between a retired classics professor and a group of African asylum seekers in Berlin. The Guardian praises Jenny as “Europe’s outstanding literary seer” while The New Yorker likens her to J.M. Coetzee and V.S. Naipaul. She joins Michelle de Kretser to discuss her powerful response to the refugee crisis and explore some of the questions it raises about race, immigration and identity.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Friday Black, 5 May, 3pm
A surreal and startling short story collection tackling racism and cultural unrest, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black heralds the arrival of a thrilling new literary star. George Saunders describes this instant bestseller as “an excitement and wonder” while The New York Times praises it as “an unbelievable debut”. Khalid Warsame meets Nana Kwame to discuss his unstinting reckoning with the brutal prejudice of the US justice system, the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all.