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mwantye-le awaye - listen deeply

The Territory’s annual celebration of the written word, NT Writers Festival (NTWF), returns this month to invite readers, writers and lovers of storytelling to plunge into four huge days of author talks, panel discussions, truth-telling, workshops and more.

By Kate Conway 

Alternating between Darwin and Alice Springs every second year, this year’s program is delivered in Mparntwe/Alice Springs, and deeply representative of the vibrant Red Centre – from the sprawling native-filled NTWF hub in Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, to the thoughtfully curated program, and the feature artwork from artist Wayne Eager, Desert Summer.

This year’s theme is ‘mwantye-le awaye - listen deeply’, translated with the assistance of Arrernte Elder Kumalie Riley, and created in partnership with the festival’s advisory committee, Sylvia Purrurle Neale, Dani Powell, Meg Mooney and Gabriel Curtin. Festival Director Rita Horanyi says, in a time when there are so many distractions and competing demands for our attention, the contemplative theme’s premise of looking inward is relevant.

“I was thinking about how the past continues to impact the present, and that sort of brought us all to the idea of listening more generally. How we listen to the land, how we listen to each other, and how do we take the time to do that? It feels like something that was a really important thing to be focusing on,” she says.

In exciting news, for the first time since the pandemic, the festival program features an international guest in the flesh. Through a partnership with Sydney Writer's Festival, Pulitzer Prize winning author, journalist and historical novelist Geraldine Brooks features in panels, readings, and a talk about her latest historical novel, Horse.

Serious issues are put front and centre, with important conversations carefully curated in this year’s program. Solidarity and Survival is a panel discussion featuring three queer First Nations writers, Billy-Ray Belcourt of the Driftpile Cree Nation (joining via video link from Vancouver), Mununjali Yugambeh poet Ellen van Neerven, and Victoria Alondra, a Mestizx multi-disciplinary artist originally from Anáhuac (México).

Listening to the land is a recurring theme throughout the program, with storied walk events in the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens with agrostologist, botanist and author Peter Latz, and Arrernte language teacher, botanist and ecologist, Veronica Perrurle Dobson.

The NTWF is renowned amongst interstate and local visitors for its site-specific events and strong First Nations offerings, with something for all ages, including the little ones. Horanyi says it’s a unique experience, and offers the opportunity to listen deeply.

“It’s contemplative, thoughtful and it takes you on a journey to how we might listen to the non-human world and the land. How we might listen to ourselves, others and how we might listen to the past and all of those strands interweave … Hopefully, at the end of it, you’ve been taken somewhere and thought differently about things.”

NT Writers Festival

NTWF Highlights

The 2023 NTWF program is full of incredible events to experience, so here's a little taster. All events held at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens unless otherwise stated.

Launch, Panel & Performance: Dot, Circle & Frame
This stand out event includes the launch of illustrated book, Dot, Circle Frame - The Making of Papunya Tula Art, rrpwamper althart (possum public ceremony) from Anmatyerr knowledge keepers, and panel discussion about the ongoing significance of Papunya artists today.

WHEN FRI 2 JUN | 5.30-6.30PM
COST $25 | $20 MEMB/CONC

Poems from the Heart
An exciting line-up of artists perform heartfelt verses and rhymes that challenge audiences to listen to ourselves, to others and the world.

WHEN FRI 2 JUN | 7.30-9.30PM
COST $20 | $15 MEMB/CONC

The Voice to Parliament Handbook
Author and Statement from the Heart campaigner Thomas Mayo is joined by veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien to discuss their new book, The Voice to Parliament Handbook. The discussion is a chance to learn more before the referendum on The Voice to Parliament set for later in the year.

WHEN SAT 3 JUN | 2-3.15PM

Horse – Geraldine Brooks
Join award-winning author, Geraldine Brooks, for a discussion about her sweeping historical novel, Horse, a multi-layered novel that reckons with the legacy of slavery and racism in America.

WHEN SAT 3 JUN | 5.30-6.30PM
COST $30 | $25 MEMB/CONC

Campfire Stories
Settle around the fire under a radiant desert sky to hear stories of all kinds – from ancient to new, from verse novels to soundscapes – exploring the 2023 NTWF theme.

WHEN SAT 3 JUN | 7.30-9.30PM
COST $30 | $25 CONC

Storytime at Megafauna Central – Engawala Women’s Art Group
Join women from the Engawala Women’s Art Group for readings and fun activities around Tim’s Journey Back in Time, a picture book in English and Anmatyerre about a young boy’s time-travelling adventures to meet megafauna. There are fossils to play with, and colouring and drawings activities, too!

WHEN SUN 4 JUN | 10.45-11.30PM

Reckoning with the Past
In conversation with author Kim Mahood, join Arrernte and Kalkadoon filmmaker Rachel Perkins to discuss her documentary series, The Australian Wars, debunking the myth of peaceful settlement and telling the history of Aboriginal resistance and bravery.

WHEN SUN 4 JUN | 3.15-4.15PM
COST $18 | $15 MEMB/CONC

Playreads in the Afternoon
Sit back as local actors perform excerpts, and bring to life scenes from a selection of works by some of the Territory’s finest playwrights. Theatre maker and writer Dani Powell chats to the playwrights about the pleasures and challenges of putting words on the stage.

WHEN SUN 4 JUN | 4.30-6PM
COST $20 | $15 MEMB/CONC

Thumbnail, header & inset: Photo: Anna Cadden

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