Ivan Coyote: Talking across boundaries – WORD Christchurch

Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote (Image supplied)

When the WORD blog team put their hand up to cover different sessions at WORD Christchurch, I was fortunately alone in choosing both “The Storyteller” and “Black and Blue Storytelling” with Ivan E. Coyote. As the event continued and audiences enjoyed the stories, people kept coming back for more and more. By Sunday morning, “The Storyteller” session was sold out and WORD volunteers brought more chairs in.

Ivan hails from the Yukon, Canada and their stories are autobiographical, exploring family history and dynamics, gender identity, social justice and equality. At times self-deprecating, but with a good sprinkling of wit and humour so that the messages they are conveying are all the more powerful for being from personal experience. To deliver these messages in any other way, would perhaps come across as a lecture. Ivan has taken pains to point out that that is not their intention. In a Radio New Zealand interview Ivan explained that the medium they use is very traditional, whilst the subject matter is not. They write the story down and craft it before learning it, then once it is learnt, they are able to really tell it and tweak it and ad-lib for the audience. The result is a very natural, polished telling by a gifted raconteur.

Autobiographical storytelling requires a fine balance between truth and privacy. Ivan applies a strict set of criteria to their writing / telling. They ensure that the story is honouring and they thoroughly examine their own motivation in writing the story – for example are they trying to ensure that they have the last word? The essence of this is ensuring that they show compassion and that they “use their powers for good”. Ever since the sessions during WORD, I keep thinking what a great attitude and approach it is to aim to make everyone, even the most challenging person in the room comfortable and included. At the end of the day, why can’t we all just get along?

Ivan uses story to recount interactions with people with absolute attention to detail. “I’m not so much OCD but ATD – that’s attention to detail”. Through “Scars” we learnt a little about the mysterious world of a hand model, the map of childhood accidents and ultimately the effect of top surgery. This was moving for both the teller and the listeners. The humane telling elicits empathy, groans and sighs from the audience. On Sunday morning there was barely a dry eye in the room.

The session ended on a lighter note with Ivan telling a series of “literary doritos” short, bite-sized stories inspired by overheard snippets of conversation and a standing ovation.

Cover of Tomboy survival guideI asked Ivan if they intended readers to read their collections in order, as it seemed that Missed Her was intended that way. Ivan said that it didn’t matter although the Tomboy Survival Guide would probably be better if it was read in order. You read it here first…

Find stories by Ivan Coyote in the library catalogue

More WORD Christchurch

Black and Blue Storytelling – WORD Christchurch

Black and Blue Storytelling
Close confines at Black and Blue Storytelling

Black and Blue Storytelling at 27 steps brought me right out of my comfort zone. To be heading into Christchurch whilst stone cold sober and on my own on a Friday night after 10pm was a big thing for me – but there aren’t that many opportunities to hear adult storytelling. In my excitement I hadn’t really reflected on the name – black and blue storytelling in that some of the stories might be a bit risqué.

According to the host, Derek Flores aka ‘The Unicorn’, the aim of the evening was to conduct a social experiment to find “an inconvenient space and cram as many people as possible inside”. It was hot, or as the Unicorn described it “toasty” and the vibe was becoming a lot more like hot yoga – we were achieving weightloss through storytelling – yay!

To add to the surreal vibe, Mitchell the bar tender circulated bills to the people seated and unable to get to the bar. It is virtually a story in itself that, at the moment of Ivan E. Coyote’s introduction, Mitchell was trying to rest payment from them for Ivan’s bourbon.

Ivan had a simple message for the crowd in “A Cautionary Tale”. A tale involving a retro, blue polyester tuxedo, beer, ecstasy, air travel and inappropriate packing told with humour and panache. Don’t drink beer. We laughed, empathised and cringed together.

gender failureThis tale features in the book “Gender Failure” written with Rae Spoon, exploring their failure to fit into a gender binary world.

The Unicorn and Alice Canton wove an improvised tale that spun, as improvisation can into a surreal meander where the thread was almost lost until the Unicorn brought it all back together to a conclusion. The contrast between the crafted story and improvisation offered two very different oral narratives – a rare and welcome alternative offering in a literature festival programme.

More WORD Christchurch

My WORD – Anne on the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival

Ever since WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival ended on Sunday I’ve felt rather sad and a little lost. When I’ve been to other literature festivals I’ve been enthused, happy and have absolutely gorged myself on as many sessions as possible. Then they ended and that was that. WORD was different to that and also, for me, significantly different to previous WORD festivals. Let me try and explain how.

For me, WORD 2016 was like having my best friend visit for a full on weekend of anecdotes, reminiscence, political discussion and culture. Now they’ve gone back home and I miss them.

The main sessions which stood out for me were those related to feminism, short stories and storytelling. The sheer numbers attending the feminist sessions from Dame Fiona Kidman, Helene Wong, Debbie Stoller, Tara Moss and Barbara Brookes was heartwarming.

Book sale stand, WORD Christchurch
Books for sale at The Piano. Flickr 2016-08-24-IMG_2459

However, the absolute highlight of the festival, for me was the oral storytelling of Ivan Coyote. It is a rare thing to find oral storytelling events in literature festivals. It is, as the saying goes, “as rare as hen’s teeth” to find storytelling for adult audiences. But WORD programmed this to audiences who lapped it all up and hungrily asked for more. Oral storytelling is the one thing above all that I’ve missed since moving to New Zealand from the UK over 7 years ago. I hadn’t come across Ivan Coyote before, so my choice of their sessions was purely guided by the words “storyteller and raconteur”. My punt paid off as these sessions were fantastic. Like most storytelling events, they were just too short and that’s a great criticism to have!

So now, I have a few more books and collections on my shelves just like an album of photos to remember the weekend. Until the next time, WORD.