Known for attracting readers from near and far, Featherston Booktown and its annual programme is coming out this year to embrace diversity in all its forms with its first pop-up art and book installation.
With its pink and queer theme, the back of the town’s Anzac Hall has been renamed Gloria – the vision of artist and poet Sam Duckor-Jones.
“For me, queer art is playful and silly and camp,” Duckor-Jones says.
“It still has artistic power and merit, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Much of my life I’d been known as quite a serious person, but that’s just because of shame. I really had so much silly silliness and camp bursting to get out.”
He moved from Featherston to Greymouth in 2021, buying the cheapest house he could find and naming it Gloria.
He quickly set to work brightening up the old church in pink, something which wasn’t to everyone’s taste.
“There were definitely a few raised eyebrows. I still think of it as a sort of a holy space, specifically for queer people and queer artists and young people to just feel good about themselves and celebrated.”
Rather than being just passive viewers, he wants people to fully immerse themselves in the Gloria experience.
“Straight people are totally welcome to come and enjoy queer art. It’s like it forces you, the audience, the viewer, the participant, to also just relax into your own silliness.”
Featherston Booktown chairman Peter Biggs is keen to bring a greater range of viewpoints to the annual literary gathering.
“People like Sam make our lives richer. We’re very conscious that a more diverse community is a better community and a welcoming, tolerant community is good for everyone.”
Duckor-Jones’ installation is just one of more than 52 events. There are readings, opportunities to meet authors and booksellers and, this year, something new: activist discussions.
“We thought, how do we start to push the envelope further? It is the activists who push and shape a better world,” said Biggs. “They are restless people, they are challenging people.”
One such panel features this year’s Young New Zealander of the Year, Shaneel Lal.
“It was a space that allowed everyone to share their views, irrespective of what those views were, and be challenged in a manner that was constructive rather than aggressive,” said Lal, who was surprised that the open-minded Booktown spirit has spread throughout Featherston.
“I must say that my ignorance has really been challenged.
“I was of this mindset that coming to a small town would mean that people would be more conservative. However, I found that people here are quite open-minded and really receptive to new ideas.”
Spread over three days, with more than 8000 people attending, there’ll be plenty of challenging ideas at Booktown.
“When you bring people who are queer, who are young, who are not white, people who are progressive and challenge the status quo, that makes people uncomfortable,” said Lal.
“However, people who are able to sit with their discomfort and reflect on why they feel uncomfortable are going to be people who are able to keep up with the change that’s happening in our country.”