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For the love of books, ideas and debate

When I started as editor of The Age nine months ago, there was a lot to do and lots of ideas about how to do them. But there was one vanity project I couldn’t let go. The Age no longer partnered with the Melbourne Writers Festival that, years ago, was named The Age Melbourne Writers Festival.

It’s not the biggest partnership we have, and certainly not a lucrative one – the festival does an incredible job with little money. But for a festival of ideas, books and debate in our city not to have links with Melbourne’s preeminent masthead that champions ideas, books and debate seemed out of kilter, even embarrassing. So this year, The Age once again is the media partner for the festival, now helmed by its talented artistic director, Michaela McGuire.

Tomorrow, The Saturday Age will include a lift-out of the festival’s program. Apparently, many festival-goers, while they like a digital version, want to sit down and circle their favourite events in a print copy, so we are happy to oblige.

Looking through, it’s an outstanding program of local, national and international writers. McGuire explained to books editor Jason Steger that when she was running the Sydney Writers Festival last year, it was abruptly cancelled due to COVID-19. This year in Melbourne, there are contingencies in place and international writers will Zoom in on video. We are crossing our fingers that we can mingle with other book lovers in person.

A few highlights for me. I’m a crime fiction fan, so am looking forward to Jane Harper (The Survivors) talking about her bestselling crime mysteries and how remote Australian landscapes inform her work. I will not miss Dear Son editor Thomas Mayor, writer and broadcaster Stan Grant and The Age’s Indigenous affairs reporter Jack Latimore discussing their contributions to the collection of letters written to sons, fathers and nephews in celebration of First Nations manhood.

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Douglas Stuart will beam in from New York to talk about how he shaped the world of his Booker Prize-winning novel Shuggie Bain.

Writers and editors, including The Age state political editor Annika Smethurst, Lech Blaine (author of Car Crash) and The Monthly editor Nick Feik, will discuss the figure of the larrikin in Australian politics, with presenter Jan Fran.

And I won’t miss Alice Pung speaking about her new novel One Hundred Days. T

he Age has its own event at this festival. We discussed what this should be about, and decided that if we were to host an event, it should tackle a big cultural debate where diverse views could be presented in a respectful and informative way. So, we went for “The Cancel Culture Wars” and I am thrilled by the line-up. Age columnist and broadcaster Waleed Aly (if you missed his essay in The Monthly about woke politics, you can read it here), publisher Louise Adler, author and journalist James Button, columnist Parnell Palme McGuinness and lawyer and human rights activist Nyadol Nyuon. It will be at the State Library on September 5. As an Age subscriber, you get 20 per cent off tickets across the festival.

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