The final session of the 2013 Auckland Readers and Writers Festival celebrated the life and work of poet, novelist, writer, teacher, academic and artist, Albert Wendt. Robert Sullivan spoke to this gifted and charismatic author who received a warm reception from his attentive audience.
Albert Wendt has been fundamental in shaping the contemporary literature of the Pacific. In his work he confronts racism in New Zealand, speaks openly about the effects of colonial upheaval on his people and incorporates Samoan storytelling and rhythms of language into Western form. He says his novels have to work when he reads them aloud. If they don’t work, he rewrites.
His novel Sons for the Return Home, the story of a Samoan man and his Western girlfriend, was written forty years ago and has become a seminal text. Leaves of the Banyan Tree took the author over 15 years to write and has been well received around the world. His poetry is some of the most engaging and memorable work produced in this country.
Wendt is a very visual writer. When he spoke, he told us of the black beauty of the lava beds of Samoa, the sun setting over a circle of white stones where the two oceans meet, and the black star shape of the flying fox bat as it sails overhead. It is no surprise he’s turned to painting in recent years. He says, ‘I love the tactile feeling of the paint. I can get into the zone and stay there.’
Witi Ihimaera, Bill Manhire and Selina Tusitala Marsh read excerpts from Wendt’s work and the audience was treated to performances by the author’s granddaughter, talented opera singer Isabella Moore, and by the Kila Kokonut Krew.
It was a wonderful and fitting end to the celebration of literature that has been AWRF 2013. In her conclusion, organiser Anne O’Brien said 13,000 people had attended the sessions this year which is a 25% increase on last year. She thanked Albert and his peers, the writers from New Zealand and around the world, who came and made the event so worthwhile, and the audience who engaged with the authors and supported the vision of New Zealand’s largest literary festival.
Plans are already underway for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2014. Do try and get here if you can.