FOR Jemma Birrell, scanning the country and the world for the best writers to take part in Australia’s biggest literature festival is a labour of love.

The upcoming Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) not only boasts an array of acclaimed names in the line-up, but preeminent LGBTI voices also take centre stage, including theatre and Hollywood star Alan Cumming.

“I try and get the most interesting writers from all different areas, all different genres and styles of writing and so within that we’ve been able to get some incredibly strong and fascinating authors, some coming from the LGBTI community,” said Birrell, who heads up SWF as its artistic director.

Literary festivals can provide a platform for marginalised voices like those in LGBTI communities, and give readers insight into a world they may know nothing about.

“For me it’s about great writers and it’s inevitable that that will include some amazing queer writers,” Birrell said.

“I think there are a lot of people that are just unusual and different thinkers and really strong writers who write about their sexuality and different issues surrounding that.

“They also write to celebrate various aspects to their sexuality and some just write about their experiences and share that with an audience that would not usually have that sort of exposure to the LGBTI world and community.”

Securing Scottish actor, writer, singer and man who can seemingly do anything, Alan Cumming, was a proud achievement for Birrell. She said the chance to hear him talk about his critically-acclaimed book Not My Father’s Son, which discusses the abusive relationship he had with his father, would be a highlight.

“[Alan Cumming] is such a creative being whether it be through performing, writing and thinking,” Birrell said.

“So many people will know him from so many different things that he’s done over his career, he really is quite fascinating. We’re very lucky to have him here this year.”

The 2015 SWF will also feature other LGBTI writers including Daniel Mendelsohn, critic and author of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million along with Australians Denis Altman, Benjamin Law, David Marr and trans* Air Force Group Captain Catherine McGregor.

Writer and broadcaster Robert Dessaix, writer and illustrator of children’s books Leigh Hobbs, and Megg and Mogg cartoonist Simon Hanselmann will also feature in this year’s festival.

For details, tickets and bios of the range of writers on offer this year, visit


Sydney Writers’ Festival to-do list:

Featuring Alan Cumming 

Late Night Salon: Julian Morrow and Chris Taylor — Thursday, May 21

Alan Cumming and Damian Barr: Growing Up and Other Disasters — Friday, May 22

Featuring Daniel Mendelsohn

Writers on Writers: Malouf and Mendelsohn on the Classics — Thursday, May 21

A Personal Odyssey — Saturday, May 23

Featuring Dennis Altman

Dennis Altman: On Quer[y]ing Agatha Christie — Saturday, May 23

The Cold War on Sex — Sunday, May 24

Featuring Benjamin Law

Culture Shock – Friday, May 22

Word Lounge: Drafts Unleashed + Slam — Friday, May 22

The Golden Age of Television — Saturday, May 23

Featuring Catherine McGregor

Barrie Cassidy: In Love and War — Thursday, May 21

Featuring Ellen Van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven and Lynn Coady: The Honest Awkward Truth — Thursday, May 21

A Pack of Lies: Narration in Fiction — Thursday, May 21

New Voices: Debut Fiction — Tuesday, May 19


**This article was first published in the May edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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