A three-day program of panels, conversations and feature events, curated around the theme of ‘Radical Hope’ filled hearts, nourished minds and sparked much-needed joy for audiences and authors alike.
Byron Writers Festival 2022 (26-28 August) was a resounding success, delighting audiences with a triumphant return after two years of cancellations. More than 140 writers, thinkers and storytellers came together to explore the theme ‘Radical Hope’ in a compelling program of panels, conversations and feature events. Close to 9,500 patrons attended the festival that included 99 sessions on the festival grounds, 11 workshops, 6 feature events, 12 satellite events, and a schools program for primary and secondary students.
Indigenous authors dominated book sales, with Paul Callaghan’s The Dreaming Path in the top selling spot, alongside Trent Dalton’s Love Stories. Other First Nations bestsellers included Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear, Krystal de Napoli and Karlie Noon’s Astronomy: Sky Country, Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage’s Country: Future Fire, Future Farming and Corey Tutt’s The First Scientists. Big fiction sellers were Here Goes Nothing (Steve Toltz), Sweet Jimmy (Bryan Brown), Devotion (Hannah Kent) and Nimblefoot (Robert Drewe), best-selling non-fiction included The Big Switch: Australia’s Electric Future (Saul Griffith), Dissolve (Nikki Gemmell) and Desire (Jessie Cole).
“Byron Writers Festival was incredibly special this year and a true reminder of what happens when we bring our best authors and thinkers together with people who love books and ideas to discuss the issues that matter today”, said Artistic Director Zoe Pollock. “We heard conversations about the power of poetry, and deep discussions around challenging topics like climate change, gender equality and racial justice. Most importantly the conversations turned time and time again to the power of taking action for a better future world. This year’s festival is a testament to the importance of the arts to the national conversation. It’s so wonderful to be back.”
Enthusiastic crowds filled marquees throughout the weekend with popular sessions including: ‘Brave New Green World’ with Damon Gameau, Tim Hollo, Saul Griffith and Sarah Wilson; ‘The Mungo Panel’ with Kerry O’Brien, Margaret Simons and Barrie Cassidy; ‘Abandoning Afghanistan’ with Andrew Quilty, Mariam Veiszadeh and Mark Isaacs; ‘Love and Other Stories’ with Trent Dalton, Nigel Featherstone, Hannah Kent and Alex Adsett; and ‘Country: Future Fire, Future Farming’ with Bruce Pascoe in conversation with Cheryl Leavy.
A common theme throughout the festival was one of hope with authors, staff and audiences all relishing the significance of reconnecting after the upheaval of the pandemic and devastation of floods in the region. ‘We all needed this so much, and I don’t think we realised how much until we got here’ said author Arnold Zable. Sessions galvanised audiences to take action on the issues that matter, with much of the focus of discussions being on the power of community. “I accept that our system is fundamentally flawed, but I will never accept that our people are. That is where infinite hope lies,” said Bundjalung climate activist Mia Thom.
A program of separately ticketed feature events was an outstanding success. The keynote event ‘Radical Hope’ played to a full house at Byron Theatre and a standing ovation. The event featured five radically different writers and thinkers – a philosopher (A.C. Grayling), an activist (Mia Thom), a filmmaker (Damon Gameau) and two poets (Anne-Marie Te Whiu and Luka Lesson) and was a demonstration of the power of story. “Stories shape culture, culture shapes leaders, leaders shape policy, and policy shapes the system,” said Damon Gameau.
“It was fantastic to see audience members walking away from the festival with a renewed sense of purpose, inspiration and hope,” said Zoe Pollock, Artistic Director.
Thanks to donations from ticket buyers, more than 250 students from flood affected schools were able to attend the festival’s schools program at no cost. The festival also raised $4000 for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.