The full program for this year’s Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival goes live today and ticket sales open to punters on Monday. The 2021 edition of the annual literary festival promises a slew of big-name headliners despite frantic changes to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, which has put a hold on the international talent which is usually drawn to the Margaret River region. Steering her first festival towards the May finish line, director Sian Baker said it was great to have a clear run at delivering the well-received showcase in a streamlined format. “After the cancellation of the 2020 festival, we are extremely excited to be able to deliver a program that truly showcases and champions the voices of our Australian authors and especially our WA-based authors,” she said. “But we are not going to let COVID stand in our way and will be welcoming our international authors and audiences through the magic of Zoom right into our main theatre.” The first confirmed overseas guest was Scottish writer and editor-at-large of the London Review of Books, Andrew O’Hagan, who will discuss his acclaimed novel Mayflies. The Australian guest list reads like a who’s who of the literary scene, with authors invited for the chance to celebrate new works released during 2020 in a mix of panel and “in-conversation” events, as well as appearances at pop-up venues including Riversmith and the Margaret River Bookshop. Guests include Chris Flynn, Pip Williams, Robert Isaacs, Julia Baird and Iain Ryan. Bunbury-based writer and lecturer Donna Mazza will discuss her near-future book Fauna, while Kate Mildenhall’s futuristic The Mother Fault is also set to find new readers. Arts Margaret River’s general manager Michelle Wright said the arts community was looking forward to hosting the festival for the first time at the Heart venue, after 2020’s event was nixed by coronavirus lockdowns. Residents and attendees will get the benefit of free workshops this year, held in conjunction with Capes libraries from Augusta to Busselton. In Margaret River, hard-boiled WA crime writer David Whish-Wilson will lead his own workshop and free performances will also be held. The Wilding Stories is an audio-based multi-arts performance focused on women’s fight against abuse on personal and global levels. Julia is a solo dance performance developed by artists Sally Richardson and Natalie Allen. The festival will also host several major book launches, with Tanya Heaslip’s Beyond Alice and Jonica Newby’s Climate Grief set to debut. A ticketed evening with former Greens leader Bob Brown at Voyager Estate is also expected to sell out fast. Despite the challenges, Ms Baker said the 2021 program was a chance to evolve and innovate “and come back stronger than ever”. “The festival is a chance to come together and celebrate the power that words and stories can have, and how they can nourish, inspire and create social connectedness even in the darkest of times,” she told the Times. A concerted effort has been made this year to make Aboriginal storytellers a “huge focus” of the 2021 program, as well as partnerships with Writing WA and the Fellowship of Australian Writers. The festival runs from May 14-16. The program goes live tonight and tickets can be bought from Monday via mrrwfestival.com, with a discount for Arts Margaret River members.