Writers Festival: Festival full of praise for women writers

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Standing ovations for authors including Keri Hulme and tears for the uplifting Alice Walker.

Oamaru writer Keri Hulme was honoured. Photo / Marcel Tromp
Oamaru writer Keri Hulme was honoured. Photo / Marcel Tromp

Three important writers, all women over 65, were given separate standing ovations yesterday at the Auckland Writers Festival, where provisional numbers suggest attendance was up 45 per cent to more than 50,000.

At the start of the inaugural Great Kiwi Classic "bookclub" honouring The Bone People, it seemed Keri Hulme's participation would be limited to an all-too-brief reading in an appealing if slightly muffled voice.

Happily she re-donned her microphone as the audience shyly delivered wonderful tributes. "To me the novel is about kaitiakitanga in its deepest sense," said one attendee, referring to the Maori concept of active care and guardianship of people and the land.

Hulme agreed. "I loved my characters but I also wanted to show how much damage we do to each other."

Several speakers, including a survivor of child abuse, said they were grateful for the approach to abuse: neither accepting abuse nor denying that "you can love and be loved by your abuser."

Hulme ended the session: "I will be very happily going to sleep knowing this has been a good discussion."

Earlier, Alice Walker's consciousness-raising session left a few with tears in their eyes. Walker talked of the planet being in grave danger.

"Use the power of your imagination to think about something very radically different from what we have, because what we have is killing us." She recommended meditation, which she said helped her through a traumatic divorce.

She also advised the audience to have courage to feel their own pain so they can feel the pain of others. "Che Guevara was right: any revolution has to be about tenderness. One didn't have to agree with her about essential female traits and historic telepathy to feel uplifted. Hard times require furious dancing."

The session ended with a mihi in te reo from two women in the audience and a long hug for Walker's interviewer Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Patricia Grace, wearing the colour purple, was this year's honoured New Zealand writer, talking unassumingly with her longtime editor Geoff Walker, who asked if her work is deliberately political.

"Issues of land and language are what Maori people live with everyday," replied Grace, whose perennial theme is "the ordinary everyday lives" of the people she knows. She and her whanau closed the festival with a waiata.

Elsewhere, Lloyd Jones compellingly discussed personal trauma, recounting his mother's heritage of rejection dealt with in his memoir A History of Silence. Both Gil Hanly and Marti Friedlander photographed the session. Unusually, Friedlander took photos of Jones on the large screen; Jones had earlier remarked his screen images were unnerving. "I'm all over the place!"

The 2011 Christchurch earthquake triggered Jones' desire to dig into his own foundations: draining a swamp is to try and "drain a place of its past" he said, and replace it with a veneer of concrete. "But as the people of Christchurch learnt, water has a memory."

The take-home message from Reza Aslans audience Q&A session on the politics of prophets was that scriptures are "infinitely malleable". The sparky, eloquent scholar of religion pointed out that slave owners and abolitionists had used the very same Bible verses to support opposing arguments. Like all identities, he said, religion is a construct; in contrast, "a sense of transcendence is a part of who we are".

What: Writers Festival
Where: Aotea Centre, yesterday

- NZ Herald

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