The Wheeler Centre
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The Alt Write
If we’re more careful with language, hopefully less people will think that gestures mean things. Because they don’t.
Our favourite writers move us and inspire us: our imaginations, our humanity, our understanding of the world. But sometimes their writerly purpose can carry a little more bite. What is the role for the writer as shit-stirrer and agitator, provocateur and agent for change?
With host Michael Williams, four incredible writers and contrarians – Roxane Gay, John Safran, George Saunders and Brit Bennett – discuss how they push against platitude, prejudice and power in their writing. Are we living in a ‘post-truth’ era of degraded language, where the integrity of words and meaning are under siege? Is it just the nature of language? Is meaning always up for grabs?
And, in such an age, what, if anything, is the responsibility of the writer? Is it to change minds? Or even the world? These four very different writers – whose work traverses overt provocation, subtle subversion and radical inclusion – get down to the nitty gritty of the politics and purpose of the act of writing.
Roxane Gay is the author of the novel An Untamed State, Bad Feminist: Essays and the story collection Ayiti. Her work has also appeared in Glamour, Best American Short Stories, and the New York Times Book Review. She is the co-editor of PANK.
George Saunders is the author of nine books, including Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short-story collection).
He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2013, he was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.
Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Her work is featured in the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Paris Review and Jezebel. The Mothers is Brit Bennett’s debut novel.
John Safran is a writer and filmmaker who always gets in too deep for his own good. His debut book, Murder in Mississippi, won the Ned Kelly Award for best true crime. His follow up, Depends What You Mean by Extremist, found him lost among radicals and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards. His wild and hilarious documentaries, such as ‘John Safran vs God’ and ‘Jedis & Juggalos’, have received accolades from the Australian Film Institute and Rose d’Or Festival.
His latest book is Puff Piece: How Philip Morris set vaping alight (and burned down the English language).
Michael Williams is the Director of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne. He has worked at the Wheeler Centre since inception in 2009, when he was hired as the Head of Programming before being appointed as Director in September 2011.
He has hosted Blueprint for Living (2015–2016), then Talkfest (2017–2019), on ABC RN. He remains a regular guest on ABC Radio and TV. Michael has also worked as a Breakfast presenter for Melbourne’s 3RRR, as a member of the Australia Council’s Literature Board, in publishing and has written extensively for the Guardian, the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian and elsewhere.
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