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A Message from the Artistic Director

American fiction writer Tayari Jones. Canadian novelist Patrick DeWitt. Scottish crime king-pin Val McDermid. New York Times bestselling author Sloane Crosley. Musician Ben Folds. Former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark. Meet the brilliant selection of artists we’re bringing to MWF19.


I keep thinking about that bit in seminal 1979 movie The Rose where Bette Midler in full flight (and a series of truly excellent outfits, but that’s perhaps less relevant right now) is setting up to holler her way through the title track. She looks out at the crowd and takes a moment, sighing: ‘Oh, I love to be in love, don’t you love to be in love? Ain’t it just great to be in love?’ And of course it is, being in love is everything – the best and the worst of us, the driving force and the crushing defeat, the ribbon of hope and the inevitable letting go. This isn’t specific to romantic love necessarily – it also covers the abiding passion and commitment we contribute to our communities, our creative collaborators, the friends we gather to us like family in order to survive the greater world.

All of this – the way love inspires us to make better art, the way it connects us to place, how it brings us to our knees and gently raises us back up – is the inspiration behind this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival theme: When We Talk About Love.

Alongside numerous opportunities to immerse yourself in the broad spectrum of music, performance and live art you’ll find at MWF19, there’s a brilliant selection of writers and readers on offer. The delightful Patrick deWitt, author of French Exit and Man Booker-shortlisted The Sisters Brothers, will discuss the art of self-immolation. Beloved crime writer Val McDermid considers her passion for the genre. Musician Ben Folds plays the songs that inspired him straight into Charlie Pickering’s adoring ears (you’re invited too).

Along with historian Deborah Lipstadt, activist DeRay Mckesson, and recent Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Tayari Jones, you’ll find local icons – novelist Richard Flanagan wonders if all writing is the sum of unspent love, while Jane Caro and Denise Scott pay tribute to feminist trailblazers, Tony Birch and Bruce Pascoe try to ignite passion for the planet with Sophie Cunningham and Greenpeace’s David Ritter, and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark (she’s practically local) looks at women in power.

You’ll see artists you know and love write and read brand new material – from love letters (to themselves, a book, the future), to ruminations on motherhood, family, home and the body. Our Opening Night Gala asks sisters Kitty and Penny Flanagan to talk about their ‘first hello’, while our Closing Night reflects on a ‘last goodbye’ with New York Times bestselling author Sloane Crosley and Commonwealth short story prize-winner Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

This year, we’re bringing back Helen Marcou’s incredible Duets series (featuring Tina Arena and Deborah Cheetham), and panels interrogating sex and ageing (Alex Miller, Andrea Goldsmith, Dennis Altman and Patricia Cornelius, my heart) and everything from erotic scandals in Australian politics (where Niki Savva, Erik Jensen, Sushi Das and Fiona Patten try to avoid thinking about Barnaby Joyce’s nether regions) to the heartbreak and resolve of two exiled Iranian women who survived detention on Nauru.

At the beating heart of MWF19 is an utterly unique experience, which we are thrilled to be bringing to Australia for the very first time. Croatia’s world-famous Museum of Broken Relationships – a collection of anonymously donated objects of heartbreak and love lost – will be exhibited within the Festival precinct throughout the month of September, after the museum’s originators, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, carefully curate a Melbourne-specific show. I have visited the two permanent collections in Zagreb and Los Angeles and having the opportunity to share this magical project of healing within our literary arts festival is a complete privilege. When we talk about passions, the Museum of Broken Relationships is definitely one of mine. Also, if there’s an object in your life that symbolises a moment of disconnection or grief, now might be the time to seek some catharsis and set it free.

Ultimately, I’d love for you to go on an adventure this Melbourne Writers Festival. Be curious. Explore. Find the storytellers you adore doing things they don’t normally do, then dig deeper. Attend a Mass of Lament. Write a letter to a broken heart. Witness the marriage of words and visual art in Shannyn Higgins’ stunning Duality exhibition. You’ll no doubt find me somewhere in the precinct, wandering around in a happy daze – always up for a warm embrace and a friendly word, heart firmly and unashamedly on sleeve.

With love,
Marieke.