NEWCASTLE Writers Festival director Rosemarie Milsom describes this year's program as the best yet.
"I'm proud of the depth of talent and diversity of topics - there's just something about it," Ms Milsom said.
"You compare it to putting together your perfect dinner party and you hit the nail on the head with some sort of alchemy and I think that's what happened this time round."
Ms Milsom said the seventh program, which features 130 writers, was inspired by the themes of hope, resilience and the importance of delving into the stories behind stories, as comedian Hannah Gadsby did in her powerful performance Nanette.
"We thought we knew her story and we didn't and I think that's what this festival does - it helps you dig a little deeper," she said.
"She said 'stories hold our cure'. 'When we fail to listen to stories of others it's so much easier to turn away from empathy'.
"Her observations resonated with me as has her performance, which upended expectations and prompted many of us to reflect on the impact of trauma. The power of Gadsby's story though is her resilience."
The festival, to be held April 5 to 7 in the Civic Precinct features guests including writers Kerry O'Brien, Trent Dalton who penned Boy Swallows Universe, Clementine Ford, Jane Caro and The Tattooist of Auschwitz author Heather Morris; NSW Department of Education secretary Mark Scott; and musician Holly Throsby.
Session topics include the fallout from the banking royal commission, humour, history, artificial intelligence, poetry, true crime, community activism, the art of the interview and the history of LGBTQI conversion therapy.
"I reckon opening night will be pretty extraordinary with Joe Williams, Ben Quilty and [former human rights commissioner] Gillian Triggs talking about speaking out.
"It's tough in the social media age to speak out, to put your head above the parapet.
"They've all done it and they've paid a price. I think it's going to be an engaging conversation."
Ms Milsom said reading was "still in vogue" and writers were often "rebels".
"Reading is the key to getting out of the echo chamber, it makes you stop," she said.
"You can't multitask and read. It's not what you read but the process and practice of reading that's really valuable and essential to our lives and I don't think that's dying out… I think the festival fulfils a need to come together, to listen to one another and to have considered conversations, not to yell at each other in 80 characters or less on Twitter."
The festival also includes family-friendly events, a literary trivia night; production Queerstories; a comedy show; and a separate schools program.
Tickets: trybooking.com/eventlist/nwf and at MacLean's Booksellers.