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Melbourne Writers Festival Has Unveiled the Packed 2023 Lineup for Its New May Time Slot

MWF will also welcome Sam Neill chatting about his career, music great Paul Kelly and several Booker Prize-winners.
By Sarah Ward
March 23, 2023
By Sarah Ward
March 23, 2023

Bookshops are known for their variety. Everyone should be able to step into any store celebrating the printed word and find something they want to read ASAP. Writers festivals operate under the same principle, bringing together a wide array of authors covering a broad range of subjects and styles — so of course the 2023 Melbourne Writers Festival jumps from viral recipes to beloved movie stars, and also from award-winners to Australian music icons.

One huge highlight of this year's MWF program: Alison Roman, whose home-cooking tips you might've followed more than once. Making her first trip to Australia, the Brooklyn-based food writer and chef will chat about her dessert-focused cookbook Sweet Enough, and also all those recipes that've had the internet salivating, plus her general approach to the kitchen.

Alison Roman by Chris Bernabeo

Roman leads a lineup with its commitment to surveying writing in a wealth of forms, and from a swag of scribes, firmly intact — and a festival that hits Melbourne a little earlier in 2023, too. If it feels like the last MWF was just upon us, that's because it happened in September last year. From now on, however, the fest is settling into May dates instead, running from Thursday, May 4—Sunday, May 7 in 2023 at a variety of venues around the city.

One such location is Melbourne Town Hall, which'll play host to four blockbuster sessions over two evenings to get MWF 2023 started. That includes an opening night event that asks a cast of writers to reflect upon the fest's theme 'I've Been Away for a While', with Penguin Random House copy chief and author Benjamin Dreyer doing the honours alongside nonfiction writer Bill Hayes, Sweet Country filmmaker and Kaytetye man Warwick Thornton, writer and critic Sarah Krasnostein, and Wiradjuri poet and artist Jazz Money.

Also at the same venue that evening: Paul Kelly celebrating words penned by others — and likely not about making gravy — which'll see him perform Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Les Murray and more.

Jurassic Park favourite Sam Neill is set to do the writers festival rounds, coming to Melbourne to chat about his career and new memoir with comedy star Jane Kennedy before doing something similar in Sydney — and two Booker Prize-winners are hitting both fests as well. So, the Victorian capital can also look forward to the most-recent recipient, with Shehan Karunatilaka emerging victorious in 2022 for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida; plus Girl Woman Other's Bernardine Evaristo, the first Black woman to ever win the award.

Other 2023 highlights include Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow's Gabrielle Zevin exploring the New York Times bestseller; Emma Straub, writer of This Time Tomorrow and owner of Brooklyn bookstore Books Are Magic, getting talking; and Grace Tame chatting about The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A Memoir. Or, there's Dreyer doing his 'Guardian of Grammar' thing in-conversation with Richard Fidler — and Fidler himself focusing on his new historical nonfiction publication The Book of Roads and Kingdoms.

Stan Grant will discuss his latest The Queen is Dead — on the weekend of King Charles' coronation, no less — and Ellen van Neerven will unpack Personal Score, their examination of sport from a First Nations and queer perspective. Also, aforementioned author and photographer Hayes dives into Sweat, which is about exercise and its history; and actor Heather Mitchell (whose recent credits include Love Me, Blaze and The Great Gatsby) joins the guests with memoirs to unfurl.

The festival's events lineup also features the return of the MWF Big Debate, asking 'do books matter more than sport?'; Queering the Canon, which'll see its speakers plunge into the texts that influenced how they think and write about sexuality and gender; and a discussion of the past year in politics.

Spanning talks, panels, workshops and other activities, the program keeps turning pages from there — so if you're keen on hearing from Shirley Hazzard's biographer Professor Brigitta Olubas, learning about art and writing from a First Nations viewpoint, exploring where memoirs stand in the search for meaning, pondering how difficult it is to write about your heroes and celebrating the return to travel, that's all on the bill.

So is the In the Suburbs series, which takes authors beyond the Melbourne CBD. This year, that includes The Dry writer Jane Harper chatting about Exiles, her final instalment in the Aaron Falk series, in Narre Warren — a handy session to go to ahead of Force of Nature hitting the big screen in August.

Melbourne Writers Festival 2023 runs from Thursday, May 4—Sunday, May 7 at a variety of venues around Melbourne. For more information and to buy tickets, head to the festival's website.

Top image: Alison Roman by Chris Bernabeo.

Published on March 23, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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