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Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival back in action for May debut

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Gillian O'Shaugnessy with Heather Morris.
Camera IconGillian O'Shaugnessy with Heather Morris. Credit: Liam Moore

The Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival is back in action, this week unveiling a peek at its full program which includes appearances from some of Australia’s most prominent international authors.

Billed by organisers as a “three-day storytelling spectacular,” regional WA’s biggest and most successful literary festival will see a host of iconic Australian and ex-patriate guests descend on the Margaret River region in May.

While the Margaret River Heart-Nala Bardip Mia will be the main locus for the action, satellite and partner events as well as workshops are planned throughout the festival.

There is also a Young Reader & Writers Program that runs for two weeks across the festival period and a one-day “special edition” literary festival based in Busselton featuring Jane Caro speaking on her book The Mother and JP Pomare launching his new book Home Before Night.

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Festival tickets go on sale on Monday, March 27, ahead of the festival debut on May 12.

Early bird tickets will get booklovers a ringside seat to numerous events and workshops, with festival director Sian Baker saying this year’s offering included a strong focus on gender, Indigenous issues, the environment, and mental health.

And while the hybrid festival offering of recent years was well received, 2023 would be the first time since the pandemic the full arsenal of talent could make in-person appearances.

“After a couple of years presenting a hybrid festival of livestream and live author appearances due to COVID-19, we are delighted to present such an exciting mix of literary talent live at the festival,” Baker said.

“The program is incredibly diverse, offering readers and writers a range of exciting events in our beautiful regional setting.

“Expect some hard-hitting climate content, discussions about mental health, gender fluidity and diversity, and First Nations authors and stories,” Baker said.

“We are very excited by the new cultural policy that will invest heavily in supporting and developing the arts and storytelling.

“The policy opens with the line, ‘a place for every story and a storyteller for every place,’ and the festival is that place.”

Main stage headliners this year include veteran actor Bryan Brown, author and radio host Richard Fidler, plus writers Danielle Laidley, Hugh Mackay, and Simon Holmes à Court speaking on topics close to their heart.

On Friday, May 12, Mackay will give the festival’s keynote address focused on his book the Kindness Revolution, which will be followed by a community wellbeing session facilitated by Madison Godfrey featuring students from Margaret River Senior High School talking about the challenges for youth mental health in the age of social media.

The next day, world-renowned surf journalist and writer Tim Baker leads another health and wellbeing session in partnership with the Margaret Rvier Men’s Shed, using Baker’s memoir, Patting The Shark, about his experiences with prostate cancer, as the jumping off point for a more wide-ranging conversation.

Also on May 13, the ABC’s Fidler explores his personal journeys into the history of the world’s lost and fallen cultures which feature in his latest release, The Book of Roads & Kingdoms.

And that afternoon, a panel session about gender and sexuality will serve as the launch of author Paul Dalgarno’s book Prudish Nation, and include authors and public speakers Mackay, Godfrey, Holden Sheppard, and Danielle Laidley.

Former AFL footballer Laidley, the author of Don’t Look Away, will also take part in a personal discussion of her journey towards identity and acceptance.

While there were many more workshops and events, other sessions were curated to appeal to varied tastes.

Dr Matt Morgan, launching his book One Medicine, will talk about how a better shared understanding of our species’ coexistence can drive medical advances, while Dalgarno returns to discuss his most recent release, A Country of Eternal Light, an exploration of grief and its complications.

Elfy Scott talks about her deep dive into mental health and duty of care in The One Thing We’ve Never Spoken About, Brown details his new collection of noir-inspired short stories, in conversation with Caro, while Climate 2000’s Simon Holmes à Court shares background insights about the Teal conservative movement and then hosts a panel discussion focused on the “decarbonisation” of WA with a range of experts.

The festival will also debut West Australian writers including Michael Trant, Sasha Wasley, Richard King, Brandan Richie, and also Margaret River artist Rachael Coad’s first graphic novel New York City Glow.

Other featured writers include Laidley, Elizabeth Coleman, Jock Serong and Julie Janson, among others, and WA-based children’s authors Steve Heron and Esther Krogdahl, while Indigenous artists Jayden Boundary and Tyrown Waigana feature at the free Storytelling Snug where children can participate in interactive storytelling sessions.

Other speciality appearances include a highlight dinner plus question-and-answer session with Fidler, and Mackay hosting the WA launch of his new book The Therapist during this year’s celebration.

Individual session passes start from $15 and $25 or day passes were also available.

Visit www.mrrwfestival.com for tickets and more.

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