An Interview with Festival Curator Mykaela Saunders

Melbourne Writers Festival is proud to have acclaimed author Mykaela Saunders (Always Will Be) as a Festival Curator this year. Discover how she approached curating her events, what the theme means to her, and events she's looking forward to at MWF.  


How did you approach the curation of your events – did you start with a theme, a speaker or a question, for instance?  

I took the brief very seriously, and thinking big, I started out with ideas for around six sessions, purely based on books and speakers who had captivated me over the last few years. I had a lovely process of spitballing with Michaela McGuire and narrowing things down. Most of my ideas ended up being too niche or too ambitious, and we whittled it down to my current two sessions based on the availability of guests and other logistics.

With Let it Bring Hope, I wanted to dedicate a session to celebrating Palestinian creativity which is more important than ever seeing that their people and homeland is under renewed and apocalyptic attack by Israel. I spoke to two of the Palestinian guests about my ideas and took their lead in opening this session up to spotlighting Aboriginal-Palestinian solidarity, and I invited more guests; I especially wanted to include creatives who are politically active, and it was important to me that they were actively part of the local community too. I paired everyone up together, and here we are.

And I always had Alexis Wright in mind, given how influential she has been on my own writing and thinking about literature. I was originally going to invite her onto a panel, but the more we spoke together, the more I realised there was so much I wanted to know about her incredible body of work, and so we decided on a one-on-one interview. Don't get me wrong, I still love panels! But the format doesn't lend itself to a deep dive on anyone's work. 


What does the theme of this year’s Festival ‘Ghosts’ mean to you? 

Ghosts and hauntings are a big part of how I live in the world, and in my body too. My body is inhabited by more than just myself; my blood is made up of thousands of generations of ancestors who I talk to and listen to everyday. My spirit flows in and out of the lands, waters and skies I'm connected to. These relationships may seem spectral and esoteric but they're very real.

And of course we live on what was once a paradisiacal continent that has been cursed by colonial violence and ineptitude the past few hundred years, and these unresolved histories haunt and hound everyone who lives here now even if they're not conscious of it.

And though we may be haunted, we are also continuously ghosted by the goodwill of government and corporations who bypass our most basic of human rights.


What events are you most looking forward to attending at the Festival? 

I'm excited to check out fellow curator Ziggi Ramo's session Who Gets to Be Human?, as I love panels structured around juicy themes, and I know I'll learn a lot from this one. The topic is close to my heart.

And I'm looking forward to Nam Le and Leslie Jamison in conversation with Sophie Black. I hope Nam reads from his new book. His readings are always gorgeous.



You have your own book of speculative fiction, Always Will Be, that you’ll be discussing with Daniel Browning at the Festival. What excites you the most about this discussion or are you most looking forward to imparting to audiences? 

Daniel really is the best journalist working in this country and I've learnt so much from his critique and coverage over the years. His work is an immense gift to our culture. But professional reasons aside, I'm just so stoked to be talking with another Tweed blackfella about a book I wrote for and about Tweed blackfellas. I feel like out of every possible interlocutor I could meet on the stage to talk about my book, Daniel is best placed to pick my stories apart. He's sharp and generous, yes, but he also knows the places and people I've written about better than any other interviewer could. I can't wait to think out loud with him.

Purchase Always Will Be with Readings Bookstore.