Blak Futures Now: Celebrating First Nations Stories with Blak & Bright Literary Festival

Blak and Bright Stone Motherless ColdMelbourne’s biannual First Nations literature festival, Blak & Bright, is set to return this March, empowering and celebrating First Nations writers and storytellers, with an almost entirely free program.

Spanning 5 days, with over 30 events and 80 First Nations artists of diverse backgrounds and genres, the contemporary festival – the largest in Australia – has revealed its expansive 2024 line-up.

Unfolding across Melbourne’s major venues, The Wheeler Centre, Fed Square, State Library of Victoria and The Capitol, with many events live-streamed online, this year marks the Festival’s fourth instalment since its inception in 2016, and its biggest iteration yet.

The 2024 program celebrates the multifaceted expressions of First Nations writers with a program ranging from songs to essays, oral stories to epic novels, and plays to poetry – including new events and cherished favourites.

This year’s theme, Blak Futures Now, underscores the urgency and contemporary relevance of Indigenous voices in literature, emphasising the significance of these narratives in today’s world, whilst expressing optimism for the future. It is a powerful call to action to recognise and elevate the stories, experiences, and perspectives of First Nations people.

“This year’s Festival is a space for the exchange of ideas, the celebration of resilience, and the envisioning of diverse Blak futures,” said Festival Director Jane Harrison.

“We are open to all audiences and want Blak stories to be shared and valued within the community. Join us for a transformative journey, in person or online, and experience the future of the millennia-old tradition of storytelling.”

Highlights from the 2024 program include:

In an exciting coup for the Festival, screen icon Leah Purcell AM will deliver the Keynote, reflecting on her extraordinary life as an actor, writer, director, producer, singer and speaker, sharing the lessons she’s learnt along the way.

Following this, Through Our Lens sees six writers share 12 images that define their stories – images of family, Country, working lives, the places and people that influence them.

These visual stories will move, delight, and inspire, from a line-up of diverse story-makers, artists and writers including ABC journalist Daniel Browning, author and musician Gregg Dreise, Australia’s first Indigenous psychiatrist Helen Milroy, playwright, poet and novelist Julie Janson, award-winning multidisciplinary artist Kirli Saunders, and author Mariah Sweetman.

Further highlights include a newly commissioned work from Naarm’s hottest theatre duo, A Daylight Connection featuring Carly Sheppard and Kamarra Bell-Wykes manifesting their next best original idea, reinventing the genre, and writing existence into its future with The Block.

Whilst an In Conversation with two icons, Miles Franklin Award-winner Kim Scott and renowned academic, author and activist Tony Birch, gives audiences a sneak peek into the illuminating book On Kim Scott: Writers on Writers written by Birch which hits shelves later this year.

Meanwhile, Festival Director Jane Harrison explores the poignant themes of her novel The Visitors alongside Melissa Lucashenko who delves into her epic novel Edenglassie, for an insightful conversation on First Nations perspectives of colonisation, moderated by Daniel Browning.

Stories Behind the Songs invites audiences to experience the powerful fusion of melody and meaning as Blak artists explore the depths of storytelling through the medium of music. Be mesmerised by the soul-stirring melodies of Allara, Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO’s powerful soprano, the contagious energy of Maylene Yinar and the genre-bending Monica Jasmine Karo.

The Bogong is a chance to come together and hold space for spoken word pieces. With performances by record-breaking author Debra Dank, queer writer Elijah Money, YA author Gary Lonesborough, actor and theatre maker Nazaree Dickerson, speculative fiction writer John Morrissey, actor and activist Tamala Shelton, and recognised Canadian author Waubgeshig Rice, it’s not to be missed.

Aspiring First Nations writers will have the opportunity to pitch their stories to representatives of all the major publishers in Pitch Blak.

In The Craft of Writing, esteemed writers Julie Janson, Kim Scott, and Raelee Lancaster sit down with Stella Prize-winner Evelyn Araluen to discuss their methods of the craft. Additionally, publishing expert and educator Melanie Saward will lead the writers workshop, From Brain to Page.

The fabulous Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO, Helen Milroy and Debra Dank will also reveal how they write while juggling the many roles Aboriginal women fulfil in their communities in a festival favourite, Sistas Are Doin’ It.

There’s plenty more on the agenda for emerging young artists, with Yung, Blak & Bold exploring the minds of young writers who are shaping the future of Blak literature, featuring John Morrissey, Stone Motherless Cold, and Susie Anderson, and YA Awesome! where writers Gary Lonesborough, Graham Akhurst and Melanie Saward delve into how to craft compelling narratives that young adult readers love to read.

From the aspiring to the inspiring, LGBTQIA+ writers Laniyuk, Kirli Saunders and Stone Motherless Cold share the words and stories that inspired them in Rainbow Words. Whilst activists including Aretha Brown, Hayley McQuire, Monica Jasmine Karo and Clint Hansen, all from diverse social justice backgrounds, present thoughtfully curated ten-minute talks on positive change in Yung Tent Embassy.

With a foundational belief that Blak stories are relevant to everyone and for everyone, the Festival seeks to build and broaden the readership and audiences for First Nations writing and storytelling and get all audiences excited about First Nations narratives.

The Blak & Bright Literary Festival runs 13 – 17 March 2024. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Stone Motherless Cold (supplied)