Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival launches its program for 2019

People who write books and people who love reading them will once again be gathering in Bellingen on the June long weekend for the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival.

This year's celebrity from the media world is acclaimed ABC journalist Kerry O'Brien, who now lives on a property near Bangalow and has penned an 880-page memoir about a career spanning 50 years.

He'll be 'in conversation' with Debbie Spillane for the closing event on Sunday night and also appearing with Tom Iggulden, Clementine Ford and Chris Hammer on a panel titled '21st Century News and Information' on Saturday night, chaired by One Plus One interviewer Jane Hutcheon.

Jane Hutcheon will also be popping up as chair of a panel discussing children's books with the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2018–2019, Morris Gleitzman, Tashi series author Anna Fienberg, Gleniffer-based writer and illustrator Colin Thompson and comical writer and primary school teacher Oliver Phommavanh.

Over 40 national, regional and local writers will be taking part in the festival, which kicks off on Friday June 7 with the unmissable Bello Poetry Slam run by Elizabeth Routledge.

Other notable names coming for the weekend include ABC Radio Science Show host Robyn Williams, Catalyst presenter Jonica Newby, writer/academic Robert Manne and columnist/essayist Anne Manne, film director/scriptwriter Rachel Ward, Indigenous Studies academic Marcia Langton, novelist/short story author Robert Drewe, renowned historian Henry Reynolds, novelist/singer-songwriter Holly Throsby, Indigenous chef Clayton Donovan, bird expert Gisela Kaplan, music reviewer Bernard Zuel and literary editor Jason Steger.

This is Jenni Clement's second year as chair of the festival and she's excited that the Crime and Mystery genre will be a particular focus for 2019.

"That was a bit of a push on my part," she said. "It's got a huge audience, both in books and on TV."

There will be two panels across the weekend titled 'Whodunnit? Who wrote it?' with authors Chris Hammer, Holly Throsby, JP Pomare, Mark Brandi, Caroline de Costa and Christian White.

Jenni said she's been struck by the strong demand for contemporary Australian writers on the festival circuit.

"It's been really interesting putting this together over the last few months, seeing just how popular and successful Australian writers are becoming," she said.

"There seems to be this huge demand for them both at home and overseas at the moment."

As the line-up for the 2019 Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival attests, there's plenty of talent available, and Jenni said those who come here report that they have a fabulous time.

"I think that has a lot to do with the town," she said. "It's so embracing. Michael Leunig last year in particular was saying he felt really comfortable being able to just walk around. He wasn't harassed, people were just nice and kind to him."

Jenni said another aspect of the festival that writers appreciate is the thought that goes into the billeting, with committee member Rene Alexander deftly matching visiting writers with locals who volunteer their self-contained accommodation. 

"The generosity of people in town and the standard of accommodation they offer to our guests is always commented on in glowing terms," Jenni said.

Rene is keen to find a few more hosts and can be contacted via info@bellingenwritersfestival.com.au

The full festival program, along with author profiles and further festival information, is available at www.bellingenwritersfestival.com.au

Festival Weekend and Day passes, as well as individual session tickets are on sale from The Waterfall Way Visitor Information Centre in Bellingen and online via www.trybooking.com/458274

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