Jackie Ryan has been liberally using the F-word to describe this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival, which is tantalisingly near.

BWF runs May 30 to June 2 – and excitement is building. As for Ryan’s use of the F-word, the BWF artistic director says that F word is “festive”.

“As with last year, we’re keen to put the ‘festive’ back in Festival,” she states in the BWF program publication.

“That means different things to different people. You want to hear about dragons? We’ve got your dragons. Mysteries? Check. Culture, sex, soccer, diplomacy, democracy, disability, translation, diversity, poetry, religion, art, comedy, crime, science, sickness …”

The list doesn’t end there and we think this year’s BWF offers an embarrassment of riches.

It’s the liveliest program we’ve seen for some years and Ryan seems to have an uncanny knack of being all things to all people. That’s not easy but she seems to have done it. More than 60 Brisbane authors will feature alongside a star-studded line-up of national and international guests, with most events held in the festival hub at the State Library of Queensland in the South Bank Cultural Precinct.

Australian headline authors include Melissa Lucashenko, Julia Baird, Kate Ceberano, Chris Hammer and Trent Dalton, while international highlights include Booker Prize-shortlisted author Paul Murray, bestselling crime writer Michael Connelly, fantasy legend Naomi Novik, English novelist and screenwriter Louise Doughty (a guest speaker at the Marion Taylor gala, a much-anticipated highlight) and superstar fantasy author Samantha Shannon.

This year BWF is joined by guest curators Melanie Saward (Aboriginal First Nations) and Lenora Thaker (Torres Strait Islander First Nations), along with authors from Sing Lit Station, a platform for dynamic voices in contemporary Singaporean letters.

“Our slogan is ‘Have we got a story for you’,” Ryan says. “We’re serving up a veritable buffet of writers and subject interests in 2024 and have set the conversational table with fine panel and chairing combinations for audiences to feast on. It’s an intellectual all-you-can-eat.”

Michael Connelly makes his BWF debut to discuss his latest release, Resurrection Walk, and the exploits of his two most enduring characters, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller.

He also lends insight to the International Crime panel alongside crime fiction luminaries Louise Doughty and Dann McDorman, and a panel with local stars Bryan Brown and Dinuka McKenzie. Australia’s traditional storytellers share culture and spark connections with panels and conversations featuring First Nations authors including Daniel Browning, Jackie Huggins, Melissa Lucashenko and Anita Heiss.

Podcast and art history sensation Katy Hessel talks about the overlooked women in art history and VAULT magazine editor Alison Kubler joins a panel on feminist progress with Suzie Miller, Amy Remeikis and Balli Kaur Jaswa.

Naomi Novik makes her first appearance in more than 10 years as she discusses her latest work, the Scholomance trilogy, a magical school story resplendent with monsters and myth.

Other international authors include brilliantly contrarian novelist and screenwriter Lexi Freiman discussing his work, The Book of Ayn, crime writer Jake Adelstein for The Last Yakuza and current Women’s Prize long lister Sarah Ogilvie for The Dictionary People.

We’ve got plenty of Queensland favourites, too. Get in quick for locals including Trent Dalton, William McInnes, Anna McGahan, Samuel Wagan-Watson, Matthew Condon, Hedley Thomas, Laura Jean McKay, Simon Cleary and Clare Christian.

I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from Ogilvie, who is swapping the spires of Oxford for her hometown of Brisbane. Ogilvie, a lexicographer who lectures at the University of Oxford, in the UK, is the author of The Dictionary People (Chatto & Windus, $35), the fascinating story of the Oxford English Dictionary – of the people who edited it and, importantly, the ordinary folk who contributed to its creation.

Her book has had rave reviews globally and she is grateful for that after working on it for eight years. She’s also thrilled to be coming home.

“I haven’t been back to Brisbane for 10 years,” she says. “And I miss it.”

Ogilvie went to Stuartholme School and later attended the University of Queensland.  She is from a well-known Brisbane family but says she is “a bit different”. “I’m a bit of a black sheep, the nerd of the family,” she says.

She specialises in language, dictionaries and technology. As a lexicographer she has been an editor at the Oxford English Dictionary and was chief editor of Oxford Dictionaries in Australia. As a technologist she has worked in Silicon Valley at Amazon’s innovation lab where she was part of the team that developed the Kindle.

After graduating from UQ she took her doctorate in linguistics at the University of Oxford and has taught at Cambridge and at Stanford University in the US.

Our tip is that she will be one of the festival favourites this year. Her Thursday evening talk is one of the hottest tickets in town.


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