Festival writes new chapter

By Dionne Christian , Dionne Christian

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin is expected to be one of the main drawcards for this year's Auckland Writers Festival. Photo / Supplied
Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin is expected to be one of the main drawcards for this year's Auckland Writers Festival. Photo / Supplied

The Auckland Writers Festival has grown so large that a spiegeltent will be used to accommodate some events on the six-day programme.

Festival director Anne O'Brien tonight announced the 42 international writers who will appear at this year's festival in May alongside a host of local authors.

They include Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, Man Booker Prize winner Paul Beatty, feminist icons Susan Faludi and Roxane Gay, US foreign correspondent and Pulitzer-Prize winner Thomas Friedman, children's author Lauren Childs and English Masterchef judge and food critic Jay Rayner.

O'Brien says the festival, the largest literary event in the country, has grown exponentially since it started in 1999. Attendance at last year's events, many of which sold out, topped 65,000 and saw the Aotea Centre packed out.

It means the Pacific Crystal Palace spiegeltent will be put up in Aotea Square to make extra room. It will become the Heartland Festival Room, a venue for chat-show style salons hosted by long-time playwriting collaborators Chris Parker and Tom Sainsbury and visiting novelist Stella Duffy.

"We are at capacity in the Aotea Centre so the Heartland Festival Room will allow us to bridge the divide between the venue and the street," says O'Brien.

A word trail, featuring more than 20 writers performing Insta-essays, music, spoken word poetry, games and theatre, will take place on High Street while the Auckland Town Hall will host the Best of the Best: Spoken Word Showcase.

The festival even takes to the sea for one event, a charter boat journey with Raewyn Peart, the author of The Story of the Hauraki Gulf, who will share stories about Gulf islands.
Thousands of school pupils will also take part in a programme specially designed for youth.

Local writers to feature including doctor and poet Glenn Colquhoun, Commonwealth Prize-winning novelist Catherine Chidgey, theologian, 99-year-old Lloyd Geering on stage with broadcaster John Campbell and a host of children's writers.

Saying she never chooses authors with a particular theme in mind, O'Brien says these tend to emerge once the programme comes together.

"It's hard to go past the political climate we are now in: Trump, Brexit and unpredictable change. It is exposing division right across geographical, historical, social, economic and gender divides.

"The best thing we can do is to try to understand how we've come to be where we are, converse with one another and try to chart a path forward."

The country's premier book honours, the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, are the first public event on Tuesday, May 16. The winner of the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction prize will be announced along with those in the poetry, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction categories.

This year's Honoured New Zealand Writer is Dame Fiona Kidman who has published more than 30 fiction, non-fiction, short stories, plays and poetry works to date.

What: The Auckland Writers Festival, May 16 - 21; www.writersfestival.co.nz for more information. Bookings open at 9am on Friday at www.ticketmaster.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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