Greek writers at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival

Mark Manopoulos, Angelo Loukakis and John Danalis are among more than 400 writers at the Melbourne Writers' Festival

What does it mean to be human? This is the question that local and international writers will attempt to answer at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF).

The idea of humanity is central to literature. The festival’s focus is reflective of that and what [the WiPC] tried to achieve.

Now in its 25th year, the MWF continues to attract writers from all over the world, who take part in discussions about literature.

At the deepest level, these are conversations about what it means to be human.

Mark Manolopoulos, author of If Creation is a Gift and With Gifted Thinkers, is speaking at the festival this year.

Manolopoulos has a poetic take on what it means to be human.

“The human is an abyss; each person is a chasm, ultimately mysterious, complex, multiple, elusive…It’s important to remember this, even though – paradoxically – we’re learning more about what it means to be human.”

In his discussion, titled The Thinking Person’s God-dess, Manolopoulos will explore the question: what kind of deity should today’s thinking person believe in?

In part, he believes that, “one’s faith and one’s image of the divine would have to be ethically and politically progressive – indeed, radical, evolutionary.”

The desire to know how we came into being is a decidedly human trait and the beliefs we hold in this area are as individual and complex as the human race.

Another local writer who is speaking at the festival is Angelo Loukakis, who has attended the festival in past years as both a writer and a publisher.

Author of Houdini’s Flight, Loukakis will join fellow writers Steve Toltz and Rebecca James to discuss the power of suspense in their work and how they harness the reader’s imagination by releasing the story’s secrets slowly and purposefully.

In Houdini’s Flight Loukakis gives a story about Harry Houdini to a contemporary character in a modern-day setting.

“Houdini occupies a special place in the imagination of this particular character called Hal Sargeson and he uses [Houdini’s] story to help another character called Terry Voulos reinvent his life – to rescue himself in effect,” he said.

In its simplest form, storytelling is the act of taking the elusive wisps of imagination we all hold in our minds and turning them into something concrete that tells of the human experience.

For Loukakis, being human means that we are meaning-making creatures.

“Whatever else we do, apart from trying to secure our survival, our task seems to be to create meaning for ourselves and we do this through various tools: art, writing, philosophy, literature.”

Brisbane-based writer John Danalis will also be in Melbourne for the festival, discussing his latest book, Riding the Black Cockatoo.

The book, now a VCE text, follows an aboriginal skull nicknamed ‘Mary,’ as it is returned to its traditional owners.

This year, the festival coincides with the 50th anniversary year of the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International.

PEN was born out of concern about attempts to silence the voices of critical thinkers through detaining them.

WiPC campaigns for the rights of writers who are persecuted for the opinions they have expressed in their writing and political activities.

The festival’s emphasis on humanity is linked to the ongoing battle between writers and those who want to censor their words.

According to the festival’s director, Steve Grimwade, “The idea of humanity is central to literature. The festival’s focus is reflective of that and what [the WiPC] tried to achieve.”

Another important event that is taking place around the same time as the MWF is the United Nations Conference on global health.

“The decision for the festival to concentrate on humanity reflects that conference,” Grimwade explains.

The annual UN conference will take place in Melbourne from 30 August to 1 September.

Non-Government Organisation representatives from around the world, as well as United Nations delegates, will meet to discuss issues such as reducing child mortality and poverty.

The MWF will feature a number of activities based around issues presented at the conference.

Our sense of what it means to be human is constantly changing and writing plays an important part in this evolution.

Each year the MWF offers us a chance to explore our humanity through literature and stretch our minds in new ways.
Grimwade sums the festival’s purpose up perfectly.

“The idea of a festival is to have an intense celebration of writing and to bring writers that people know together with writers that people don’t know. There are certain things only festivals can do and that is, bring together writers in unexpected ways. We have 400 writers [and] 400 events, so when you mix them up you get really quite exciting results.”

The Melbourne Writers Festival runs from Friday 27, August, to Sunday 5, September. For more information and to purchase tickets to any of the festival’s events, go to or call the box office on (03) 9999 1199.