Every year Melbourne Writers Festival delivers hundreds of engaging events, bundled into a program that overwhelms with choice. The program finds its way into my inbox and into stands throughout the city, which I trawl through, highlighting and circling panels and workshops to my heart’s content. Then comes the arduous task of figuring out how to attend them all. This year the festival rolls into Melbourne from August 25 to September 3, bringing with it journalist, broadcaster and former Going Down Swinging editor Bhakthi Puvanenthiran.

This year Bhakthi is participating in several events at the festival, including the Pop Culture and Feminism panel, where she will be leading discussion on how pop culture aids women in making sense of their place in the world.

Thankfully, she’s also let us know what to keep an eye out for at the festival, and what’s been taking up space in her brain.


What are your top five picks from the program this year?

1. Climate Change Activism with Anna Krien. Krien has been peerless in her prosecution of the case against Adani and is sharing her thoughts on what the future of this fight looks like. It’s free too.

2. Storytelling Live: Tomorrow. A Dandenong based storytelling event on the concept of Tomorrow hosted by the ABC’s Sami Shah. Also free.

3. This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Lines. Race, religion and progress are lightning rod issues in modern India. Experienced journalist Barkha Dutt fills in some of the blanks on this vast topic.

4. Louder Together: a resistance-themed performance event starring Ellen Van Neerven, Jeff Sparrow, Laurie Penny, Meena Kandasamy, Omar Musa and Nhã Thuyên. What a cast!

5. Joyce Carol Oates: Bearing Witness. An exploration of ethics and empathy from a veteran of American literature. Should be magnificent.

How important are events like the Melbourne Writers Festival for Australia’s arts culture?

Well having worked at writers festivals in the past, I am biased but that I think sense of togetherness is pretty special. Particularly in these Twitter-based times, the art of conversation with nuance, to and fro is worth celebrating. The only problem is all the books you end up buying.

Of the events you are appearing in, which are you most looking forward to?

Pop Culture and Feminism. I’ve just read Muslim Girl and I find Amani Al-Khatahtbeh so compelling, we’re very lucky to have her along with the brilliant culture buff Brodie Lancaster, Twitter queen Hera Lindsay Bird and magnificent author Patricia Lockwood.

What (or who!) are you most excited to see at the festival this year, and why?

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Laurie Penny and Janet Mock!

What have you been working on recently?

I’ve just started as associate editor at Crikey, which is extremely exciting. I’m also trying to make myself write some essays.

Anything in Australia’s literary scene you’re particularly excited by?

Loving seeing a strong crop of Indigenous writers telling their own stories, the likes of Amy McQuire, Nayuka Gorrie and Ellen van Neerven.

What books are on your bedside table?

All the books I need to for the festival. I also just finished Swing Time by Zadie Smith which I loved and Hanif Kureishi’s The Nothing, which is a lot of smutty fun.


The Melbourne Writers Festival runs from August 25 to September 3 at venues across Melbourne. The full 2017 program can be viewed here.

Magenta Sheridan is a writer, illustrator and part of the editorial team at Going Down Swinging. She has had work published in Voiceworks and Feminartsy, and is currently completing her honours thesis in creative writing at the University of Melbourne.