The write stuff: Brisbane Writers Festival set for lift-off!

Brisbane Writers Festival artistic director Jackie Ryan has great memories of the 2023 festival and hopes to make some great new ones this year.

Mar 22, 2024, updated Mar 22, 2024
Brisbane Writers Festival artistic director Jackie Ryan has just launched the program for 2024.

Brisbane Writers Festival artistic director Jackie Ryan has just launched the program for 2024.

Writers festivals leave us with memories and not all of them relate to the actual sessions we attend.

As a former chair of Brisbane Writers Festival I have lots of memories including a story, possibly apocryphal, about the poet Robert Adamson who is said to have disrobed in the lobby of his hotel because his room was not ready. I hope that was true.

I also recall having the honour of picking up the edgy and sometimes controversial American author Lionel Shriver from the airport one year. I’d hoped, all the way back to the city, while trying to make interesting conversation, that we didn’t have a prang.

Then there was the time I was sitting, ready to host an in-conversation session, wondering why no-one was there until someone poked their head around the corner and asked, “Is this where the David Malouf event is?” I heard the usher explain that was next door. So that’s where everybody was.

About to helm her second festival, running May 30 to June 2, BWF artistic director Jackie Ryan shared a few similar memories when we chatted ahead of the program launch on March 21.

By the time you read this you will be able to peruse her program and start booking your tickets.

If I were you I would get in quick for the Marion Taylor Gala dinner at the Queensland Art Gallery. It’s always a highlight and this year it features bestselling English author Louise Doughty. Last year it was a great night and the star turn was the very entertaining (and not at all pretentious) Booker Prize-winner, Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, author of The Seven Moons of Almeida.

When I chat to Ryan, she agrees that was a highlight, too, and recalls meeting Karunatilaka in a bar during the festival.

“Shehan came over and showed me this video of his daughter nearly dropping a koala,” she recalls. “It was very funny.” Wouldn’t have been that funny if she had dropped it but, thank god, she didn’t.

At that same venue Ryan recalls Scottish author Irvine Welsh screaming out her name for everyone to hear and giving her a big hug.

“Those were a couple of personal highlights,” she says. “Another highlight was making it through with no floods or plagues or other disasters.”

New memories await Ryan at BWF this year, with the festival hub again at the State Library of Queensland. It’s a day shorter than last year. Less is often more. So, what’s in store?

As Ryan says in the program, which you can now see in full, it will be the “same old story: a diverse array of extraordinary artists, sizzling panel combinations, sumptuous program design, seamless production, record-setting ticket sales, rapturous responses, beatific levels of support, high-fives to the point of blisters”.

Oh yeah?

“But that was last year,” she adds, showing a flair for comic writing. “Now for the difficult second album. Can this incarnation of BWF also make friends and influence people? As Shakespeare once said, ‘yes’. As with last year, we’re keen to put the ‘festive’ in festival.

“That means different things to different people. You want to hear about dragons? We’ve got your dragons. Mysteries? Check. Culture, sex, soccer, diplomacy, democracy, disability, translation, diversity, poetry, religion, art, comedy, crime, science, sickness, environment, advice, music, media, history, biography, anthology, children’s fiction and ‘a succulent Chinese meal’? Over the course of 150 events, we’ve served up something for everyone.”

Something for everyone can sometimes be a euphemism for nothing much in particular, but a quick shufti at the program engenders excitement.

American crime writer Michael Connelly will be here, so will Louise Doughty (who is doing the Mariona Taylor Gala dinner) and Dann McDorman from the US. International crime writers will mix with local authors including Bryan Brown who, as well as being a successful author, now has a whole new generation at his feet after his performance in the Netflix series Boy Swallows Universe.

American speculative fiction author Naomi Novik is coming, too. It is her first visit Down Under for a decade. The brilliantly contrarian novelist and screenwriter, expat Aussie Lexi Freiman, will be here talking about The Book of Ayn. Brisbane’s own Sarah Ogilvie is coming home to talk about her fascinating book The Dictionary People. She lectures at Oxford nowadays.

Melissa Lucashenko, Julia Baird, Kate Ceberano, Trent Dalton, Matthew Condon, Anna McGahan, William McInnes and a horde of other Australian and Queensland authors will also be on hand.

The list is long and varied, so have a look at the program yourself. I mean, I don’t know what you like, do I?

I should add that Ryan does mention that the amazing Suzie Miller, novelist and playwright (Prima Facie, RBG) will be here, which is exciting. She can talk. Boy, can she talk.

Ryan was program manager at BWF before she took on the big job, but points out she has been attending the festival forever.

“I’ve done my reconnaissance,” Ryan says. Of course, she’s an author too, which helps. Her book, We’ll Show the World: Expo 88 (UQP, 2018), won two 2018 Queensland Literary Awards: the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance and the University of Southern Queensland History Book Award.

It takes a steady hand and a lot of skill and knowledge to successfully run a writer’s festival. BWF has had its ups and downs with directors, but it feels like things have stabilised. And Ryan’s last album, er, festival was good. So, let’s play the second. Put it on the turntable and away we go.   

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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