AWARD WINNER: Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna at the Byron Bay Writers Festival
AWARD WINNER: Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna at the Byron Bay Writers Festival Contributed

Writer's Festival reaches out

FOR the director of a major writers' festival just weeks away from the big event, Edwina Johnson seems remarkably calm.

And she has good reason to be. She believes the Byron Bay Writers' Festival program's 115 sessions have got the balance right - across genders, ethnicities and political positions - with a diverse range of speakers booked and ticket sales up on this time last year.

Some of the writers she is most looking forward to hearing, such as Mexican-American Jennifer Clement, were signed up virtually overnight.

Ms Johnson heard Clement speak at a PEN Faulkner Award night in Washington DC, where her novel, Prayers for the Stolen, was a finalist in the fiction category.

"It gave me goosebumps hearing her read from it," she said. "Because she is a poet, every sentence sings" - despite it being a tale of murder in the brutal setting of a country terrorised by narco-criminal cartels.

Winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Sofie Laguna, has also joined the line-up.

Award judges considered Laguna's novel, The Eye of the Sheep, to be of the highest literary merit, in line with the criteria set out by Miles Franklin.

"To have her here in Byron Bay will be a highlight of the program," said Ms Johnson.

Ms Johnson is also looking forward to hosting David Vann, author of Aquarium, as well as Nigerian-born Chigozie Obiama.

"His debut novel, The Fishermen, is exquisite and has been getting literary praise from around the globe," she said. "He's a really interesting speaker, incredibly engaging, who will also be speaking on school days."

The schools program has been expanded offering more to local schools, and reaching out as far as Maclean. There will also be a literary dinner at the Tweed Regional Gallery and a film-based session in Lennox Head.

In Byron Bay, other sessions range from the seriously political, with Julia Gillard and British firebrand Tariq Ali, through to satire with First Dog on the Moon.

The Byron Bay Writers Festival runs from August 7-9.

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