ACT Chief Minister

Andrew Barr

In March, as the entire world locked down, it seemed there was little to be delighted by. News that the Canberra Writers Festival would proceed was indeed welcome. I had no hesitation in wholeheartedly committing the ACT Government’s support.

In a difficult year for all Canberrans, the opportunity to escape to the world of literature seemed perfect for a community recovering from a fiery summer and in the midst of a global pandemic.

In just five years the Canberra Writers Festival has become a much-loved cultural event. Once again it offers an exceptional line-up of national and international authors.

Covid-19 meant the festival team had to rethink how to deliver the festival. The result is a mix of live and virtual events and is a great compromise. What better time to bring Canberra together for a celebration of literature?

This is truly a community event made possible by the generous support of founding partners, the Museum of Australian Democracy Old Parliament House, the National Museum of Australia and The Australian National University.

My thanks to longstanding corporate sponsors the National Press Club of Australia, National Circuit and Capital Hotel Group. Given these unsettling times, it’s fantastic to welcome new partners – the Molonglo Group and the Copyright Agency.

Our media partners – The RiotACT, The Canberra Times and The Saturday Paper – know the Canberra community so well and always enthusiastically support and promote the festival.

Finally, my thanks to you, the audience, for loving your writers festival. Your loyalty will ensure the Canberra Writers Festival returns better than ever in 2021.


Ian Chubb

Welcome to the Canberra Writers Festival 2020, a five-day celebration of literature. While the festival looks a little different, the quality remains assured. We are very proud to be among the first to deliver a live writers’ festival. We have a terrific line-up of international and national authors, writers, thinkers and provocateurs.

The festival is now a part of Canberra’s cultural fabric. It is an event that showcases our city and responds to our inherent love of words, ideas and debate.

Even in this digital age, writers’ festivals the world-over have been winning new audiences. This year we embrace the digital as part of our delivery.

Power Politics Passion is the theme from which we scrutinise issues from the past, present and future. I urge you to join the conversations with acclaimed national and international authors, whether in person or via streaming.

Our Canberra audience is discerning and that guides our programming. This year, through streamed events, we hope to attract a new audience from beyond Canberra and the region, to experience the flavour of a Canberra writers festival.

The opportunity to immerse in books, words, stories and their authors, to uncover meaning, discuss ideas and debate issues has never seemed more important.

The festival has gone from strength-to-strength because we have loyal and generous partners and sponsors who share our vision for a distinctly national writers’ festival.

Thank you for participating in the Canberra Writers Festival. I trust we can all come together as usual next year, united by our love of books.

Festival Director

Paul Donohoe

After the bushfires that halted our travels and summertime as we know it, we enjoyed a few weeks of respite before being hit with Coronavirus. Locked up and locked down again.

When I saw the national broadcaster advertising “Please no more podcasts, shut the f**k up” I thought it was time to be guided once again by them. With restrictions easing we could take a bold approach with some live events, under strict protocols and limited numbers, to quench a thirst for normality. Let’s be brave!

The idea was met with enormous support from our partners, sponsors and the ACT Government. The response to our newsletter, announcing that the festival would proceed in 2020, was surprise and overwhelming support.

And hence a reimagined 2020 CWF emerged after navigating an uncertain course. The tough part was reducing the fully programmed festival, of 80 events, to a viable smaller event. We have cherry-picked the original program and we hope the result, though smaller, meets your expectations.

The concept, to have a blend of live and streamed events, aims to give as many people as possible a festival to enjoy in the way they feel most comfortable in difficult circumstances.

I’m proud that the Canberra Writers Festival will be the first live event, following the shutdown, in many of Canberra’s renowned institutions. It’s possibly the first live writers’ festival in Australia. While some may say ‘brave’, we took a leap of faith so we may reconnect through words, books and people in our new world. Why not?

Artistic Director

Jeanne Ryckmans

Groucho Marx said: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book”.

While we’ve landed in this strange climate, having been trapped in quarantine, some have turned to binge streaming. But like Groucho Marx, we all know the real joy comes from picking up that book.

A few months ago, it felt inconceivable that we would have a program. But here we are, the only writers' festival in 2020 to bring a combination of live and streamed events. As they say, when life gives you potato peels, make Vodka!

Our signature opening night dinner at the National Museum of Australia is inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘The Hangman’s Supper’. Television chef and writer Adam Liaw has carte blanche to devise his own Hangman’s Supper.

Gloria Steinem will be beamed from New York to speak with Women Kind author Dr Kirstin Ferguson on: Why the truth will set you free (but first will piss you off).

Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert will also beam from New York to talk to Australian novelist and close friend, Chris Flynn, at the Canberra Theatre, about creativity being joyous not torturous.

The Irish Hemingway, Colum McCann in New York, will speak with Caroline Baum about his book Apeirogon, hailed the year’s masterpiece, based on the true-life friendship of two men whose daughters were killed in the Middle East.

Historian William Dalrymple will beam from India to talk with author and friend John Zubrzycki about one of history’s great corporate stories, the East India Company.

Up early in London will be philosopher Alain de Botton to let us in on what’s at the heart of a fulfilled life.

Australia’s beloved broadcaster, Richard Fidler, will be live at the Canberra Theatre with the microphone turned on him by Simon Winchester, from his farm in Massachusetts, to discuss the magical city that is Prague.

Jess Hill will be talking to journalist and author Rick Morton about her Stella Prize-winning book See What You Made Me Do on the crisis of domestic abuse.

Insiders Live returns with host David Speers and friends at the National Press Club.

Mega-selling author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris, will be talking with author Juliet Rieden about truth in historical fiction.

The all-important question, “Why Does It Take A Catastrophe dot, dot, dot, question mark?” will be answered in person by Rebecca Huntley, Liz Allen and Peter Greste with Norman Swan.

Toby Walsh, Ellen Broad and Sacha Molitorisz will explore the ethical effects of big tech and how we safeguard our privacy.

Musician and songwriter Paul Kelly will recite the poems he loves, ancient and modern, that speak to literary themes of love and death and discuss them with Libbi Gorr.

Our living national treasure Barry Jones, in conversation with Peter Greste, will talk about our post truth era and the challenge of increasingly fragile democracies and public institutions.

Julia Baird, David Roland and Jean Kittson will speak with Clare Wright about how to survive when the world turns on its head.

And for the kids, there is a special live appearance by Matt Stanton, bestselling author of the Funny Kid series.

The festival’s closing night signature live event Girls Night In returns with Julie Bishop, Jean Kittson, Bridie Jabour and Chris Ryan sharing their observations on the absurdity and whimsy of life.

Our perennial theme is: Power, Passion, Politics. We weren't deterred by the Pandemic – the fourth "P". I hope you'll join us this year and support our writers and artists and attend either in person (with the requisite distancing) or subscribe and participate online.