1 The conversations
Going to a writers festival is akin to sitting and listening to lectures. Who does that willingly on a weekend? Thousands of us, if the crowds which swamp the Aotea Centre and surrounding square are a sign.
The ASB Theatre is frequently packed to its vertiginous back row seats in the balcony; smaller rooms heave with people and queues to have books signed thread thick and long through lobby areas. The popularity of things like the AWF and, last year, Auckland University's Raising the Bar - not to mention a multiplicity of podcasts - demonstrate we're hungry to talk, hear and think about issues facing us individuals and societies; we're craving honest and authentic connections, new ideas for old problems.
That we want to talk isn't just good; it's great - but great conversations, at least in a writers festival format - also depend on great discussion chairs. Most do an admirable job at a nerve-racking task but audiences are told at the end of each session they can ask questions, not make statements.
The same must be true of the chairs who should ask well-researched and nuanced questions that take us beyond what we can read about an author on social media. They must also be willing to jump in and keep a guest on track because we only get an hour with each one.
2 The candour
In a session called Can We Be Frank? writers of Young Adult fiction Erin Donohue, Eileen Merriman and the UK's Alex Wheatle wrestled with the challenges of writing about hard-hitting social issues for teenagers already inhabiting a complex world.
I suspect more would have liked to hear further about the nuts and bolts of achieving this in print but this highly personal and confessional discussion demonstrated that writers can and are willing to be frank about their own desires and demons.
The emotion in Wheatle's story about waiting for a teenaged boy, anxious to be liked and apparently keen to escape his bleak urban environment, to show up for a trip to the countryside will stay with me for a long time.
The boy didn't come; he'd been stabbed. Similarly, local writers Fiona Farrell and Catherine Chidgey were warm and generous company discussing why they write fiction and the fine, thin line between it and reality. Cross it at your peril.
3 The hard truths
Historian David Christian talked of the need for a new and modern origin story of humanity to be taught to a generation facing unprecedented challenges.
He tried to be optimistic but when he said, "For the first time in the history of the universe humans have total control. It's like a kid being in charge of a jumbo jet. Can we consider a world that will be benign for our grandchildren?", it was hard not to be a little bit terrified but we came to talk about this stuff, so we must push past those fears.
Similarly, Indian politician, writer and former United Nations Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor spoke about the importance of honestly confronting the past - there's candour again - so we can forgive, but not forget, and move forward in a more equitable manner.
If the millions watching the weekend's royal wedding listened to what he said, backed up by facts and figures, about the British in India - and why he will never recognise Winston Churchill as an exemplar of human rights - a fair few might well ask the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to make a trip to India to offer a formal apology and then start work on a museum, in London, that takes a long and hard look at colonisation.
4 The humour
Each writer I heard was not only articulate in making uncompromisingly direct and honest statements, but also went about it with a good dose of warm-hearted humour.
That must be difficult when, like Kenyan teacher and writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o, you're recalling the racism dolled out by writers you were trying to model yourself on or having to write a book on prison-issue toilet paper because you'd been detained, without trial, for your work.
For a laugh-out-loud evening, wrapped around more tough and relevant truths, you couldn't go past Robert Webb. Discussing with an ebullient Noelle McCarthy the crisis in gender relations, Webb managed to make a serious discussion relevant and, by use of sharp and often self-deprecating humour, more provocative and memorable than if done straight.
5 The reactions
And we're back to conversations. There were so many writers I wanted to see but didn't. When there are 230 in one weekend, tough choices have to be made but chats with friends and colleagues after were uplifting because of their enthusiasm at hearing from the likes of David "The Creative Brain" Eagleman; Lisa Dwan ("She was a 15 out of 10; I wanted to throw myself at her feet" said one soul); Alex Ross, A.C. Grayling, Susie Boyt, Amy Goldstein.
And now we're left waiting for next year. Bring it on!
Ed's Note: Figures received after going to print show the AWF broke its own attendance record with 74,000 seats filled across six days.