Even when the world seems at its most confusing – full of half-truths and alternative facts, little white lies and mass deceptions – there are a handful of voices who can cut through the noise. In modes and forms as diverse as longform journalism, short stories, hip-hop and novels, these writers face our world at its most complicated and somehow manage to make sense of it all.

Offering new solutions to old problems, calling for radical change or articulating the frustrations affecting the marginalised, oppressed and forgotten, they are the voices shaping the conversation. The revolution isn’t coming. It’s already here. Discover the voices of the uprising. 


Rebecca Traister

Occupation: Author and journalist. Rebecca is a regular columnist for New York Magazine and The Cut, and has three non-fiction books to her name. 

Best known for: A teasing out the overarching cultural narratives affecting and defining the lives of American women. A self-described feminist journalist, Rebecca’s beat is gender – she brings her incisive, historically informed perspective to everything from how women are surviving Trump’s America, to the connection between terrorism and domestic violence, to the politics of the Miss America pageant. Her work is characterised by her ability to look at the state of the discourse and draw out its wider implications: not just what is happening, but also why.

Rebecca has written three books. The first, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women, surveyed the charged political landscape of the 2008 US presidential election, examining the roles of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and others. Her second book, All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, sees Rebecca balance critique and personal reflection in her examination of a woman’s right to choose – whether work, marriage, children, or all of the above. Her latest work, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, takes on the thorny subject of women’s rage, illustrating the many ways that American society shuns or punishes angry women, labelling their rage as impolite, unattractive, or even unhealthy. The book is a clarion call to women to embrace their rage. Her book's final line? "Don't ever let them talk you out of being mad again."

Key quote: “People discredit female anger, no one thinks to ask why we’re so mad.”

Recommended if you like: Your political coverage with a side of pop culture, Andrea Dworkin, the “movies with a strong female lead” category on Netflix, Vivian Gornick.

Find Rebecca at Sydney Writers' Festival

Brittney Cooper

Occupation: Author, academic and cultural theorist, Brittney is the Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, and the author of several books, including Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women and Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.

Best known for: Her astute and accessible work on the intersections of racial identity and gender politics. An academic who also writes for publications like Cosmopolitan, Brittney has commented she’s “not interested in a politics that is stuffy and inaccessible and alienating,” but rather the ways in which cultural arguments affect our everyday, intimate lives. A leading voice in black feminism, Brittney’s latest book Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, uses both personal history and scholarly lens to parse popular culture, gender theory, and historical analysis in relation to black women’s rage and the failures of white – or anti-intersectional – feminism. "This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously,” Brittney writes in her introduction. “This is a book for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don't know where to begin.” This book is a good place to start.

Key quote: “When I talk about owning eloquent rage as your superpower it comes with the clear caveat that not everyone is worth your time or your rage.”

Recommended if you like: The Crunk Feminist Collective, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Audre Lord, weaponising your feelings, Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Find Brittney at Sydney Writers' Festival.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Occupation: Author and professor at Syracuse University in New York.

Best known for: His debut book of 12 short stories entitled Friday Black. The stories read like eerily realistic science fiction, set in malls and familiar American towns nudged in the direction of dystopia. Gallows humour and absurdism are recurring features. In the title story, shoppers gouge, trample and maim each other to reach the Black Friday sales discounts, while a huge push broom is used to sweep the dead bodies aside to let more shoppers through. In 'The Finkelstein Five', we’re given a pointed satire of the American justice system, in which a white man defends his decision in court to behead five black schoolchildren. He is found innocent. ‘Through the Flash’ takes on a favourite sci-fi trope – a repeating time loop – in which victims of a nuclear apocalypse must knowingly relive a single day and resort to extreme violence to cope. These stories are heightened, absurdist visions of what it means to be black in America. Nana Kwame’s satirical, uncanny tales reckon with the toxic racism, consumerism and dehumanisation of modern life in a way that’s both darkly funny, compulsively readable, and scarily familiar. 

Did you know? Fellow Festival guest George Saunders is Nana Kwame’s teacher and mentor.

Recommended if you like: Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Colson Whitehead, watching Black Mirror, decolonised science-fiction, 12 Monkeys.

Find Nana Kwame at Sydney Writers' Festival

Akala

Occupation: Author, hip-hop artist, journalist, social entrepreneur, and the Co-Founder of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company. 

Best known for: His articulate cultural commentary as much as his music. Earlier this year, he made headlines after appearing on Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid – with around 700,000 viewers each day – to talk about the links between race and serious youth crime. Akala’s response went viral.

While his television appearances have raised his public profile, his new book, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, confirms his position as a significant cultural critic. Part memoir and part polemic, the book is a powerful account of Akala’s childhood in 1980s and 90s Britain and his experience of racial awakening as the son of a white Scottish mother and black Jamaican father. It tracks his development from nerdy, book-obsessed child, to armed wannabe gangster, to writer, hip-hop artist and intellectual. The book threads together personal experience, politics and history to deliver a powerful portrait of race, class and privilege in internet-age Britain.  

Did you know? Akala is a Buddhist term meaning “immovable”. His legal name is Dr Kingslee James Mclean Daley (he has two honorary doctorates).

Recommended if you like: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, listening to the Wu-Tang Clan, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, poet-philosophers like Talib Kweli.

Find Akala at Sydney Writers' Festival

Beth Macy

Occupation: Author and journalist at The New York Times, The Roanoke Times and others.

Best known for: Her meticulously researched works of non-fiction that illuminate the cultural forces shaping life in modern America. Her first book, Factory Man, tells the story of globalisation and the collapse of small-town American industry through a profile of furniture maker John Bassett III and the Bassett Furniture Co. Her second, Truevine, is about the lives of albino African-American brothers George and William Muse – made famous as Eko and Iko – who were exhibited as entertainment in the 1920s, and tells the larger story of race, class and entertainment in the early 20thcentury. Her newest book, Dopesick, is an on-the-ground look at America’s opioid crisis, tracing it from the origins of over-prescribing drugs like OxyContin and Percocet, to the current epidemic of widespread addiction. Dopesick weaves together candid interviews with addicts and the families and an in-depth exploration of the corporate greed and regulatory failures that have brought us to the current moment, in what is rightly being called a masterwork of narrative journalism.   

Key quote: “Nothing’s more powerful than the morphine molecule, and once it has its hooks on you nothing matters more. Not love. Not family. Not sex. Not shelter. The only relationship that matters is between you and the drug.”

Recommended if you like: The activism of Nan Goldin, Hillbilly Elegy, Martin Shkreli’s jail sentence, The Wire.  

Find Beth at Sydney Writers' Festival

Jenny Erpenbeck

Occupation: Director, playwright and bestselling author of The Old Child, The Book of Words, Visitation, The End of Days and Go, Went, Gone.

Best known for: Her virtuosic novels that have won everything from Thomas Mann Prize in her native Germany to Italy’s prestigious Strega Europeo. Raised in East Germany in the shadow of the Holocaust, Jenny’s early life was defined by living in a divided city within a fractured country. This left her with a keen sense of how displacement and the collapse of political systems effects the life of the mind. A consummate storyteller, Jenny’s latest work Go, Went, Gone explores the plight of African refugees in Europe told through the story of a widowed, retired classics professor in Berlin. The professor’s life is changed when he encounters a group of refugees protesting in the city square – slowly, as he befriends them, their life stories draw him out, moving him to take action in a story of nuanced intellectual, social and spiritual reawakening. More than a didactic response to the refugee crisis, this extraordinary novel puts a human face to an issue so often reduced to statistics and underwritten by xenophobic fears. 

Did you know? Jenny trained as a bookbinder before going into theatre.

Recommended if you like: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, W.G. Sebald’s exploration of memory and place, books of the interior.

Find Jenny at Sydney Writers' Festival

Anabel Hernández

Occupation: Author and investigative journalist.

Best known for: Her unwavering pursuit of the truth and compelling investigations into government corruption, sexual exploitation and drug trafficking in Mexico. The author of six non-fiction books and contributor to The Guardian, Le Monde, Reforma, Milenio, El Universaland La Revista, Anabel has been recognised with numerous awards for pursuing the truth at great personal risk. In 2012, she received the Golden Pen of Freedom award for her work on Mexican drug cartels, was a 2014 recipient of the Voice of the Voiceless Award and was recognised as one of “100 information heroes” in the world by Reporters without Borders in 2014. That same year, Anabel was forced to flee Mexico due to the death threats she received and now lives in exile. Her most recent book, A Massacre in Mexico, unpacks the kidnapping and suspected murder of 43 student activists in 2014, and provides compelling evidence that the Mexican state’s official version of events was nothing more than a fabrication.

Did you know? Anabel was the first woman to receive the prestigious Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award, which recognises those who have shown outstanding dedication to promoting human rights and freedom of expression.

Recommended if you like: Narcos, sprawling true-crime podcasts, speaking truth to power, Spotlight.

Find Anabel at Sydney Writers' Festival

Ece Temelkuran

Occupation: Novelist, journalist, and political commentator.

Best known for: Investigating the rise of authoritarianism, nationalism and populism in Turkey  and demonstrating how these movements are taking hold worldwide. Ece is the author of 15 books, including both fiction and non-fiction. Her latest, How to Lose a Country, draws together the political and social similarities in different countries to trace a common pattern of rising right-wing populism across the world. She illustrates how figures like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in America have created dangerous new political realities by disrupting rational thinking, dismantling institutions and finally, reshaping their countries so they can capitalise on the waves of political madness. An urgent call to action from one of Europe’s most well-regarded political thinkers, this book is a must read for anyone who looks at the rise of populism in other countries and thinks, “it could never happen here.”  

Key quote: “There is something resembling a pattern to the political insanity that we choose to name ‘rising populism’, and that we are all experiencing to some extent. And although many of them cannot yet articulate it, a growing number of people in the West sense that they too may end up experiencing similar dark dawns.”

Recommended if you like: The White Queenby David Marr, watching Q&A, Masha Gessan, Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff.

Find Ece at Sydney Writers' Festival