Curation with Michaela McGuire

What do you curate?

I’m the Artistic Director of Sydney Writers’ Festival and I curate our annual festival program of more than 300 events, as well as some special out-of-season events throughout the year.

Do you consider curation as a process of carefully selecting?

Yes, of course. Some of it is instinctual, but there’s a long process of analysing and discussing any programming brainwaves with the rest of the Sydney Writers’ Festival team before they’re actioned.

What is the most rewarding project you’ve worked on to date?

I’m so proud of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival program – it’s the fourth that I’ve worked on, and I really feel as though each has been more exciting, inspiring and thoughtful than the last. We had to cancel this year’s festival within days of launching the program due to public health concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic, but I’m still enormously proud of the work that went into putting the program together. It’ll always be a sort of time capsule and reading list of the work of an extraordinary group of authors.

What is your creative process?

I read as much and as widely as possible – advance copies of forthcoming books, reviews and criticism, any list of anticipated new books that I find online – and then start to draft wishlists for authors. Once invitations start being accepted, I broaden my reading to work out which other authors will be able to have the most interesting conversations with those who have already signed on to be part of the festival.

Do your curatorial sensibilities cross over from your professional into your everyday life?

I suppose so. Even if I’m reading for pleasure – which I do a lot of – part of my brain will still be thinking about whether that book or author would work for the festival.

What advice would you give those looking to enter into this field?

Lots of writers’ festivals offer fantastic internship programs – Sydney Writers’ Festival included – and for those specifically interested in programming, I’d strongly recommend the Emerging Writers’ Festival’s annual Creative Producer program. It’s a fantastic, hands-on opportunity to work on programming your own events, with all the support of that organisation behind you to help you succeed.

Does travel inspire your creativity?

Definitely. Pre-pandemic, I’d travel quite a bit to specifically research authors for the next festival. In a normal year I’d spend a few weeks in London and New York meeting with publishers and agents to find out about the writers they’re most excited about, and the timing would usually work out so that I could visit some international festivals and hear from new authors firsthand.

When you travel to a new place, do you have any rituals to spark creativity?

I’ll always try to get along to as many literary events that I can when I’m in a new city.

When you’re travelling and need to focus on a project, what’s the best way to unwind at a hotel?

If at all possible, I need to switch off my devices by 10pm, which can be very hard because when I’m in London or New York that’s the time that my colleagues are starting their work days and begin emailing me. The best way for me to unwind is with a book in a big comfortable bed or a bath.

Do you have any projects coming up that you’d like to share?

After the cancellation of this year’s festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival launched a major podcast series, bringing the conversations that were scheduled to take place on stage to our audience. We’ll be publishing two podcasts each week until the end of the year, and you can dive into those here.

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