A full hearted books festival in the centre of Victoria

Bendigo Writers Festival returns for four days of conversation and provocation.

‘Such is Life’ is this year’s theme for Bendigo Writers Festival. No doubt the wonders, woes and majesty of life will be covered by the suite of authors descending on the regional Victorian town from 4-7 May. Festival Founder and Director Rosemary Sorensen says the inspiration for the wide-ranging theme was lifted, of course, from Joseph Furphy’s classic novel, first published in 1903. ‘It’s funny, rambling and clever, so that seems like a good goal too, for a writers’ festival.’

This year’s Festival, Sorensen tells ArtsHub, has hit its lucky 13th iteration. It also happens to be her last year at the helm. ’It’s survived quite a bit of disruption and come out stronger each year, so it’s a good time to pass it on,’ she says. 

But before Sorensen can bid adieu, she’s co-curated a bustling program with 130 guests across 80 events, a ‘bevy of brilliant authors’ she enthuses. There’s a real championing of local authors, with luminaries such as Evelyn Araluen, Helen Garner, Pip Williams, Don Watson, Christos Tsiolkas and Tom Keneally set to inspire, tantalise and provoke audiences. International visitors include bestseller Nick Hornby, environmental and political writer George Monbiot from the UK, and Irish short story writer Claire Keegan. 

Running a festival is always a challenging experience Sorensen says, but she has a not-so-secret weapon who’s helped her wrangle this year’s itinerary: ‘All events are facing increased costs and crowded schedules, so it was the most amazing good fortune that La Trobe University appointed Clare Wright as their Professor of Public Engagement at just the right moment for us to ask her to be guest curator. We need a new Clare statue in Bendigo, I reckon!’

Whether it’s Writing for the Metaverse, checking out First Nation writers, speculating on Historical Fictions/Imagined futures, canvassing Race Politics Nationalism or wondering What’s Love Got To Do With It, the Bendigo Writers Festival has it covered across four days.

Kids too, are well catered for, with children authors including Sally Rippin, Anna Walker and Gabrielle Wang arriving to frolic among the crunch of autumnal leaves strewn about the town.

Although the Festival hub is at the Capital in View Street, Sorensen points out that her team has scheduled events simultaneously in five nearby venues, ‘so it’s easy to dash from place to place if that’s your thing!’ she says.

May in Bendigo is a great time to visit, she continues, so in between attending readings and discussions from upcoming and established writers, booklovers should also try and visit notable local landmarks like, ‘Great Stupa, the Golden Dragon Museum, Ulumbarra Theatre and MacKenzie Hall – where the food is superb. The Bendigo Art Gallery’s Australiana exhibition is also free,’ notes Sorensen. 

As a nod to Bendigo’s designation as a creative city of gastronomy, the Festival has also organised an opening night banquet. Ticket prices include wine, canapés and conversation with the award-wining Alice Zaslavsky, whose book In Praise of Veg has been published in 11 countries.

Such is life indeed. Literature and food in the Victorian heartlands in the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. What more could anyone ask for?

The Bendigo Writers Festival is on from 4-7 May 2023.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on