Byron Writers Festival 2023 (11-13 August) was an overwhelming success, welcoming capacity crowds to bask in the sunshine at its stunning new location at Bangalow Showground. More than 120 writers, thinkers, storytellers and poets created a diverse program of memorable conversations and panels that explored the theme of ‘Wild Imagination’. Close to 10,000 patrons, who ranged from passionate lovers of words to the youngest of readers, attended this year’s event that included 80 sessions on the festival grounds, 8 workshops, 12 feature and satellite events, and a two-day schools program for primary and secondary students.
Authors of genre-blurring works captivated audiences and dominated book sales, with Anna Funder’s Wifedom in the top selling spot, followed by Brigid Delaney’s Reasons Not to Worry: How to be a Stoic in Chaotic Times and surprise addition to the top sellers list, UK author Gabriel Krauze with Who They Was. Other bestsellers were Lea Ypi’s Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, Debra Dank’s We Come with This Place, Tracey Spicer’s Mad-Made: How the bias of the past is being built into the future, Zena Cumpston’s Plants: Past, Present and Future, Heather Rose’s memoir Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here and Robert Waldinger’s The Good Life. Big fiction sellers were Holly Ringland’s The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding, Pip Williams’ The Bookbinder of Jericho and Shankari Chandran’s Miles Franklin-winning Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens.
The festival opened with a powerful Calling to Country, curated by Rhoda Roberts and hosted by Delta Kay, featuring custodians, elders and guardians of language from across the Bundjalung nation, who welcomed all to Country through ceremony, song and story, including visiting First Nations writers involved in the program.
“What an incredible five days – our beautiful new site in Bangalow was absolutely singing with joy! Our audience was entertained, inspired and motivated to imagine wildly different worlds by our program of talented storytellers. The conversations were compelling and thought provoking. And it all happened under the shining sun and the cool shade of the Bangalow Showground trees. Today our community is bound in the connections that literature creates,” said Zoe Pollock, CEO & Artistic Director of Byron Writers Festival.
Marquees were brimming with enthusiastic crowds, the beautiful heritage A&I Hall was transformed into an ‘Imaginarium’, and sunny spots on the grass invited guests to lie back and immerse themselves in popular sessions that included: Grace Tame in a powerful one on one conversation with Amy Remeikis; Henry Reynolds delivering the annual ‘Thea Astley Address’; authors Grace Chan, Suneel Jethani, Tracey Spicer and Julianne Schultz exploring the wild frontier of artificial intelligence in ‘Ethics of AI’ ; an inspiring session ‘Sistas Are Doing It’ with Zena Cumpston, Cheryl Leavy, Alison Page and Ellen van Neerven; a deeply moving session as writers Marele Day, Briohny Doyle, Heather Rose and Kerry Sunderland delved into ‘Loss, Spirit, Passion’; and an empowering exploration of ‘The Importance of Female Leadership’ with Debra Dank, Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, Jess Scully and Liz Skelton.
Across the weekend, patrons kicked on into the evening for the ‘Wild Imagination Keynote’ event, ‘Voices in the Wild’ spoken word cabaret as well as several performances of NORPA’s ‘Bundjalung Nghari – Indigenise’, and sat down on Saturday for a yarn with Bundjalung elders at ‘Buruugaa Gaandjindii’ (Weaving Gathering) and the launch of the book Bulaan Buruugaa Ngali, We Weave Together, presented by Arts Northern Rivers.
On Sunday, ‘Kids Big Day Out’ kept families entertained all morning. The afternoon offered moments of connection as Robert Waldinger shared insights from his book The Good Life, and laughs aplenty from Myf Warhurst, Oliver Phommavanh, Shirly Le and Mandy Nolan as they divulged their wildest dreams. The festival ended on a high with patrons linking arms and raising their voices in harmony to the Beatles’ ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, led by the Shire Choir.
Common themes throughout the festival were curiosity, connection and of course wild imagination. Writers described how imagination aided them in exploring the past, present and future. Audiences were taken on a rollercoaster of emotions from laughter and joy to sorrow and tears. Loud, continuous applause and standing ovations were a constant during the festival.
Top-selling author Brigid Delaney said “Not only was the festival blessed with abundant sunshine – but the mood of the whole festival was so great. Events were packed, crowds were curious, relaxed and friendly and I had some brilliant conversations with readers at book signings.”
Thanks to donations from ticket buyers, close to 500 students from flood affected schools were able to attend the festival’s schools program at no cost, with a further $3000 donated to support students in 2024. The festival also raised over $3000 for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. More than 150 volunteers from across the Northern Rivers community and beyond helped deliver the festival.
Held on the lands of the Arakwal Bumberbin peoples of the Bundjalung Nation, we pay respect to the traditional owners of these lands and acknowledge them as the original storytellers of this region.
Byron Writers Festival 2023
Friday 11 August — Sunday 13 August, 2023
Bangalow Showground and A&I Hall