Ciao Italia – showcasing Italian fun, food and fanfare Wednesday 14 June 2017, 6pm to 9.30pm at The Colombo 363 Colombo Street, Sydenham – Christchurch
Fancy a trip to Italy but the budget won’t stretch quite that far? Well, here’s your opportunity to experience the next best thing without having to get on a plane! Throughout June, Italy will in fact be coming to The Colombo. This will culminate in Christchurch’s first ever Ciao Italia festival on Wednesday 14 June.
As we all know, Christchurch has seen an influx of new residents in the last few years. Italians have been among the many attracted to our shores and have brought with them their inimitable flair. Ciao Italia will showcase some of this flair in the form of fashion, home and art design, and beautiful cars.
And of course, as befits any self-respecting Italian festival, there will be food and wine! You will be able to feast your palate on both imported and locally-made delicacies such as wild-pig prosciutto, cold meats, all kinds of delicious cheeses, gnocchi, pasta, espresso coffee, and even edible gold leaf.
The entertainment line-up includes:
Luca Manghi on the flute and David Kelly on the piano playing Donizetti (Sonata per flauto e pianoforte), Briccialdi (Concerto per flauto e pianoforte) and Mascagni (Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana), and the Canterbury Cellists playing Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons;
Claudia Lues and the WEA Italian Singing Group singing Italian canzoni; and
the Dante dancers performing a traditional Tarantella.
You will be able to chat with representatives of the Italian Programme of Research in Antarctica and of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand, which is organising the event.
Make sure to also say Ciao to the students and members of the Dante Alighieri Society. This cultural society for lovers of all things Italian hosts monthly talks, film screenings, the Cartolina radio programme on Plains FM, and book clubs (one in English and one in Italian), as well as managing a very successful Italian language school.
Fear not, though, because you won’t have to choose one over the other: very conveniently the Cinema Italiano Festival is also being held at The Colombo, in the Academy Gold Cinema.
The Festival opens at 7.30pm with complimentary aperitifs and appetisers before screening Roman Holiday, the 1953 classic romantic comedy which made Audrey Hepburn a star. Plenty of time therefore to visit Ciao Italia before the film begins.
So circle Wednesday 14 June in your diary and spread the word. Let’s make this first Ciao Italia festival a great success so that it may become a regular occurrence in the events calendar of our ever more cosmopolitan city. And, why not, let’s show Wellington and Auckland that Mainlanders do it better!
So I missed WORD Christchurch Autumn Season but just up the drag from Cape Town, in the beautiful Western Cape lies Franschoek, where every year (in May) the Franschoek Literary Festival (FLF) takes place. I was curious to see how Africa festivates*, so my daughter and I offloaded the kids and headed into the mountains.
What is it about festivals that I love? Is it the books, the authors, the coffee, the vibe? In fact a better question might be: What’s not to love? The event that we booked for at FLF was entitled On Being A Book Club Writer, with three world renowned authors: Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame), Lesley Pearse (books like Belle and Tara) and Sophie Hannah (murder mystery writer of books like Closed Casket). The event was chaired by an ebullient Mohale Mashigo who thoroughly enjoyed herself, and worked the festival miracle of getting participants to interact with one another.
Here’s a selection of some gems that I gleaned:
I’ve never belonged to a book group, but I am glad they exist. Basically I am a storyteller – I think everything I write is rubbish until I’m told otherwise. My most bizarre reader interaction came from a young Korean man who proposed marriage. To this day I think he mistakenly thought the beauty selected for the cover of the book was me! All my writing is kept in my head, I make no notes, I seem to have no control over my characters. If I get Alzheimers, that will be it. You’ll be on your own!
I’ve attended many book clubs and spoken at quite a few of them. I love it when people come to blows over my writing. That coupled with wine and pizza, what’s not to love? It certainly feels to me that Book Club members care about books and reading. But I don’t write for book club members, I write for me. I too have very little control over my characters, I am more attracted to the Voodoo of writing, the making of little marks on the page. I once got a Valentine card from a Japanese man made from his hair – that’s the weirdest correspondence I have had. I firmly believe that you can’t express anything in writing unless you have experienced that feeling (OK so you can’t murder everyone, but you must have felt murderous at some point in order to write about it).
I did belong to a dysfunctional Book Club once, it had nine members, all women. Two of them spoke constantly, the other seven never spoke at all. I walked out one day saying I was off to fetch Chinese takeaway and I never returned. I don’t have a single weirdest correspondent. Bizarre correspondence is so regular, weirdness is so normal. I keep very detailed notes. I adore buying beautiful little notebooks. You might as well work in a canteen if you don’t like writing in a notebook! I work on a battered laptop, for at least a year the letter “p” didn’t work and I had to cut and paste it. I was writing a Poirot novel at the time!
This was my first festival coverage out of New Zealand. I loved it just as much as all the home fests I have covered. When I am old and very, very rich (one of those things has yet to happen!), I intend travelling the world from festival to festival … by train.
Sawubona from Africa!
* You are allowed to create new words when you blog about festivals!
Matariki – the Māori New Year – will take place on Pipiri 25 June 2017. During Matariki we celebrate our unique place in the world. We give respect to the whenua on which we live, and admiration to our mother earth, Papatūānuku.
Matariki 2017 is a fresh look through old eyes at Māori oral traditions, practices and customs associated with the Māori New Year. Over the next three years the Christchurch City Libraries will be re-introducing ‘Te Iwa o Matariki – the Nine stars of Matariki’ beginning with Te Kātao o Matariki – the water stars of Matariki, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā.
Matariki Toi – Community Art Project in the Library
Each year a community art project runs in all our libraries for all to explore their creative side. This year the project is weave a star. Materials are supplied, all you have to do is bring your creativity.
Matariki Wā Kōrero – Matariki Storytimes
In addition to our normal Storytimes we have Matariki Storytimes. Come celebrate and welcome the Māori New Year with stories, songs, rhymes and craft activities. All welcome, free of charge.
Our Learning Centres are offering special Matariki Connect sessions for schools, introducing students to the key concepts of Te Iwa o Matariki with a focus on the three water stars, and involving a range of fun activities. This programme is now fully booked.
Other Matariki events in Christchurch
Matariki in the Zone – Sunday, 25 June
Organised by the Avon-Ōtākaro Network – a celebration of Matariki at the Mahinga Kai Exemplar site including the opening of the Poppies commemoration garden. Activities include –
build your own hut
displays and talks
Anzac Drive Reserve
Corserland St (access of New Brighton Road)
“This is what the river told me” art and writing competition
Year 1-13 pupils can submit a written work (up to 2000 words) or artwork (maximum size A3) along the theme of “This is what the river told me”. Entries close 16 June and should be emailed (for artworks a photograph of the art and dimensions/media) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please include your first and last name, age, school and year.
The author of numerous books of a scientific bent is careful with his words and keen not to ruffle any feathers. It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if his experience is that, on the topic of Time Travel, passions might sometimes become inflamed?
A curious full house gather at the Piano for this WORD Christchurch session featuring Gleick and fellow New Yorker Daniel Bernardi (erskine fellow, film and media studies scholar, science fiction expert and documentary filmmaker). They discuss the ins and outs, twists, turns and paradoxes of Time Travel. Before long there is, as is the new tradition when two educated Americans speak in the presence of non-Americans… a jocular swipe at the current US president.
Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.
Gleick’s book Time Travel: A history is an exploration of the literature, science and zeitgeist of Time Travel. It’s far-ranging, smart and brain-expanding.
But what made him want to write on that topic in the first place?
I discovered this weird fact – that Time Travel is a new idea. That didn’t make any sense to me.
Why did it take until H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine for people to explore that as an idea? It seems a few things came together: photography and cinema were showing people a slice of the past in the present; instantaneous communication was suddenly possible making the lack of temporal alignment in different places more obvious; and time standards became a thing for the first time. As Gleick puts it, “the way people thought about Time was up for grabs”.
Then Einstein came along and things got really interesting.
Though Einstein’s theories allowed for the possibility of a sort of Time Travel, Gleick is quick to point out that it’s not the punching-a-date-on-a-machine or opening-a-portal-to-another-era kind. It’s really just the acknowledgement that there is no universal time. Everyone’s experience of time is personal and given the right set of circumstances (speedlight travel, for instance) your version of time can slow down relative to everyone else’s. This means that the Time Travel stories of the “Rip Van Winkle” (or Futurama) kind become technically possible. But Gleick doesn’t believe the imaginary, sci-fi type Time Travel that continues to excite our imaginations exists, or that it will. Though he seems apologetic about it, as if he’s mindful of deflating the aspirations of wannabe Time Travellers in the audience.
On the enduring appeal of Time Travel in literature and popular culture, Gleick feels that it lets people explore many things about families and relationships – it gives you the ability for “a do-over”. Like the movie Groundhog Day. He points out that a lot of Time Travel stories are about fathers and mothers, families and parents.
Take Back to the Future – isn’t this really just a movie about looking at your parents and realising they were once young like me, and wondering “what was that like?”
This is far from the only reference to Time Travel in popular culture, and many in the audience probably come away from this talk with a reading/watching list that includes:
A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – indicative of pessimism about the future of “our benighted country”.
Doomsday book – H. G. Wells never wrote about going into the past but Connie Willis does.
Looper – Movie that nicely skirts over the paradoxical plot difficulties by having Bruce Willis tell his younger self “If we’re going to talk about Time Travel sh*t we’re gonna be sitting here making diagrams with straws all day”.
Interstellar – Bernardi’s pick as the film that best visualises the science of Time Travel.
Arrival – A film that Gleick feels works very well in performing a “subtle trick” on the audience. All Time Travel stories have to do this but in this film you barely notice it happening.
Twelve Monkeys – Another Bruce Willis film that deals with a Time Travel loop and deals with a death.
“Blink” – Gleick’s favourite episode of Doctor Who, in particular a scene set in a spooky old house, “old houses are great time travel machines”. It’s also the first episode in which the phrase “timey-wimey” is used.
Gleick is at great pains to try and describe these stories in a way that does not reveal any important plot twists. In the case of Planet of the Apes this is… is adorable the right word? The movie came out in 1968. But no spoilers!
Another appealing aspect to Time Travel is that it’s a way of escaping death. After all, (spoiler alert!) Time will kill us all in the end.
When we hear Time’s winged chariot it’s not delivering good news.
But what is Time (other than universally deadly)? Scientists may tell you that Time is the 4th dimension and that it’s similar to the other physical dimensions in that we inhabit one spot and the rest stretches out away from us, both backward and forward. This rather flies in the face of what Gleick says we know “in our guts” about Time i.e. that the past has happened and the future hasn’t.
It seems an oddly obvious statement to have to make, and Gleick says it’s not a scientific one but a religious one.
Some of the audience questions delve into this idea of religious thought versus Time Travel and at this point I get lost, draw a spiral in my notebook and label it “loop of confusion”. Questions like “is God in Time with us?” and “doesn’t an interventionist God imply that the future isn’t set?” do somewhat “screw my noodle”. Given the heady topic, it seems inevitable that I lose the thread of the discussion at some point in proceedings. Perhaps it always has, and always did happen?
Other questions posed include one from my colleague Fee (who wrote her own post about James Gleick) and wonders if the future is set, then what about premonition? Which Gleick says (gently) that he does not believe in, though it’s a powerful idea.
Another question asks how it is that Gleick can explain such scientifically complex stuff in ways that non-scientist folk can understand. He says simply that he’s a journalist so he asks lots of questions and that a big part of it is just getting scientists to talk you as they sometimes “live in their own abstruse world”.
I am lucky enough to get the last mic grab of the night and ask my own question (which if I could have a Time Travel do-over for, I would make slightly less waffley). It’s with reference to the way we think about Time in terms of spatial metaphor. In the Western world we conceive of the past as being behind us and the future in front of us but in Māori culture this is flipped around – the past is known and therefore visible before you and it’s the future that approaches you from behind. In the course of researching had he found any other cultures that view Time this way? Gleick replies that the language we use, the words that we use to describe Time really shape how we think about it and that in some Asian languages Time travels on an “up and down” axis or “right to left”.
And if I thought my noodle was screwed before it definitely is now. As I exit the theatre along with the rest of the audience I concentrate on travelling forward through space and backwards/forwards/vertically through time.
Time: The real history of science fiction – BBC programme that discusses several of the films discussed in this session as well as the Grandfather paradox and other Time Travel tropes. (log in with your library card number and PIN to watch online)
Last year, I went to two events run by WORD Christchurch, and I fell in love with Ivan E Coyote.
I first saw them (Ivan goes by the gender-neutral pronoun) at Speaking Proud which I’d attended to see old favourite David Levithan. Ivan read their reply to a letter someone had written them, ‘Shouldn’t I feel pretty‘. It was a powerful, powerful letter and we were both tearing up by the end of it. All Ivan’s writing is performed impeccably – for them, writing goes hand in hand with performance – and is simultaneously moving and stunning. The letter was about more than just gender identity, it was about surviving in the world.
At the end of the session, I bought their book Missed Her – a collection of moments, autobiographical stories, things you might read on the blog of a friend. There’s a wicked punch of honesty in each of the stories. When I went up to get the book signed, Ivan thanked me for being part of the audience “I saw you listening intently.”
Then the Christchurch Art Gallery hosted Hear My Voice, a non-stop hour and a half of spoken word poetry, and Ivan was there, a storyteller among the poets. They read ‘literary doritos’ – not quite poems or prose, but little anecdotes, some of them deeply upsetting, some so full of hope. There were stories of cruel, cruel words spoken by adults and poignant, brilliant words from kids who haven’t learned to hate yet.
“I don’t think he is a lady” said a young girl named Rachel, “I think he is a man… but with really pretty eyes.”
A year on and I can still hear Ivan’s delivery when I read those lines. Their storytelling power is epic, the kind of epic that, if you possibly have a chance, you must hear in person to really believe it.
And for those who can’t make it, I really encourage you to pick up one of their books and read a story. It won’t take much time, some of them are only half a page long, but it will be worth it. Or look them up on YouTube (Ivan’s done a great TED talk about the use of public bathrooms, and you can also find several performances of their work).
But try and get there if you can; it’ll be a night to remember.
The Gathering, Anne Enright’s fourth novel and winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, centers around the nine children of a large Irish family who gather together for their brother’s funeral. It starts off with the main character, Veronica Hegarty having a memory about something that she might have witnessed about her brother years ago in her grandmother’s house, problem is that she has no idea if it really did happen or not …
Her latest novel, The Green Road (2015), won the Irish Novel of the Year. It follows the lives of four adult children spread over three continents, each struggling to cope with their own lives as well as with their difficult mother who announces that she will be selling the family home. The self-absorbed children return to the small Irish town in Country Clare where they grew up, and are forced to confront the realities and complexities of their family situation.
Moving, humorous yet sad, Enright’s intriguing writing style has captured the attention of fans around the globe. She was recently named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
With her quick wit and fantastic sense of humour deeply engaging audiences worldwide, an evening with Anne Enright is one event you don’t want to miss!
Many dread winter — the cold, the wet, the short days. Me, I love it! To bandy around the latest fashionable word, winter brings us the opportunity for hygge writ large: cosying up indoors enjoying the simple pleasures of a hot drink and a good book or film.
And this year there is an additional reason to welcome June because, together with the icy tendrils of winter, it brings us the warmth and conviviality of the second edition of the Cinema Italiano Festival NZ.
The brainchild of Kiwi-Italian actor, director and playwright Paolo Rotondo, the Festival redoubles the successes of its inaugural year with a fantastic selection of 20 features, ranging from traditional to comtemporary masterpieces.
So much so that, when I started selecting my top 3 picks, they somehow multiplied on me. I present you then (in random order because ranking them further is just too hard!) my top 9 suggestions.
The Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain! Breathtaking, stunning Rome is as much a star of this classic 1953 romantic comedy as Audrey Hepburn and the iconic Vespa scooter. Not coincidentally, Roman Holiday has been selected as the Opening Night film for the Festival.
Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli / Rocco and His Brothers
The epic tale of five brothers who migrate from the poverty of post-war Southern Italy to the wealthier industrial North, this is the other classic masterpiece of the Festival. Directed by Luchino Visconti and featuring Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, Rocco and His Brothers promises to be a glorious experience in the new digital restoration by Martin Scorsese.
Non Essere Cattivo / Don’t Be Bad
Italy’s entry in the Foreign Language Oscars for 2015 is the perfect flip-side to Roman Holiday: an R-18 drama featuring two twenty-something “losers” living on the outskirts of Rome in the late 1980s. As the Festival booklet describes it, Don’t Be Bad is a “gritty, visceral, rollercoaster ride, but at its core […] a clever and deep exploration of friendship, hope and life”.
Quo Vado? / Where Am I Going? Quo Vado? delivers 90 minutes of laughs while skewering the Italian obsession of pursuing a cushy public service job-for-life. As the highest-grossing film in Italian cinema history, it’s a cultural phenomenon not to be missed.
Perfetti Sconosciuti / Perfect Strangers
Another huge hit in Italy. A group of friends get together one evening and agree for fun to let the others read and hear all the messages and phone calls they receive on their smartphones. What could possibly go wrong?
Belli di Papà / Daddy’s Girl
As an Italian, I have to admit that there is some truth to the stereotype that many Italians are rather spoiled by their parents, at least by NZ standards. In fact I have known a fair few molly-coddled Italian men (I may even have one or two in my extended family, who I trust won’t be reading this…). So how could I resist watching “three ‘bamboccioni’ (big babies) […having…] to experience something they have never done before, work”?
Veloce come il Vento / Italian Race
This comedy drama won a swag of David di Donatello, the Italian Oscars. It tells the story of 17-year-old Giulia, who is trying to win the GT Championship, while dealing with the death of her father and the reappearance in her life of her drug addict brother Loris.
La Stoffa dei Sogni / The Stuff of Dreams
A tale loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest which sees Camorra criminals and a theatrical company end up shipwrecked on a Mediterranean prison island. I was sold as soon as I spotted the setting: Asinara, an island off the north-western tip of Sardinia, which is now a nature reserve and home to albino donkeys.
Fuocoammare / Fire at Sea
The setting is another starkly beautiful Mediterranean island, but the tale this time is true and much grimmer. Fire at Sea documents the tragedies which take place day in and day out in Lampedusa, the southermost Italian island and the first port of arrival for thousands of refugees escaping conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. If that is not enough to convince you that you should watch Fire at Sea, it won Best Film at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2017 Academy Awards.
The Christchurch leg of the Festival runs from 14 to 25 June at the Academy Gold Cinema at The Colombo. We are very lucky to have a double pass to the opening night of the Festival to give away to our readers. This not only includes the screening of Roman Holiday but also a complimentary aperitif and appetizers.
To enter the competition email your contact details to email@example.com with the subject line “Cinema Italiano Festival competition” by 5pm on Monday 5 June. (Sorry, staff of Christchurch City Libraries and Christchurch City Council are not eligible to enter). Good luck!
Highly-respected British historian and biographer A. N. Wilson, author of The Victorians;
Science writer James Gleick exploring the mysteries of time travel;
Novelist and Kiwi expat Stella Duffy, who is currently completing Ngaio Marsh’s unfinished novel Money in the Morgue;
Canadian storyteller Ivan Coyote, who was the breakout star of last year’s popular WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival.
WORD Christchurch’s programme director Rachael King says:
The audience for our last festival increased by 50% on the previous festival, showing there is a real appetite for these thought-provoking events in Christchurch. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Auckland Writers Festival to be able to bring such high-calibre speakers to the city.
Get your tickets now. If you buy tickets by 21 April, you do in the draw to win a 10-session pass to the Auckland Writers Festival, which runs 16 to 21 May.
Another great option is the Autumn Season Pass – it costs $90 plus $3 booking fee and gets you into all six events. All season pass holders automatically also go in the draw to win books from all six writers, courtesy of UBS.
Get reading these six writers – visit our page WORD Autumn Season and find their books in our collection. Or go to your local bookshop.
With the Holi festival approaching its fourth year of being held in Christchurch, people should no longer be surprised by the sight of respectable adults running around, throwing coloured powder and water at each other in the first week of March.
The first Holi festival held in the Garden City was organised by Hitesh Sharma and Sandeep Khanna of Revel Events, and took place at the Pallet Pavilion on 23 March 2014. The festival has grown in size and popularity since and is now one of the many Indian cultural events which are becoming commonplace on the Christchurch social calendar.
There are food stalls, games and dance performances, all the while coloured powder is continuously being thrown around. Those who are attending are encouraged to wear clothing and shoes which are old (as the colour might not wash out). Sunglasses can help keep the powder out of your eyes. The coloured powder supplied at the event is corn based and non-toxic.
This year the festival will be held on the grass space at 221 Gloucester Street. Entry to the festival is free (though bring money to purchase coloured powder and food!)
The festival is traditionally celebrated throughout the Indian subcontinent on the last full moon of the Hindu month of Phalgun.
Holi derives its name and origins from a narrative found in the Hindu scripture, Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which tells of the sinful king, Hiranyakashipu. Believing himself to be more powerful than the gods, Hiranyakashipu was angered that his son, Prince Prahlad, who was a devotee of the god Viṣṇu, refused to worship him. Holika, the demoness sister of Hiranyakashipu, who was immune to fire, tried to kill Prahlad by leading him into the flames of a pyre. In order to save his devotee, Viṣṇu manifested in the world as the lion faced avatar, Narasiṃha, and saved Prahlad. This symbolises the victory of good over evil.
To celebrate the defeat of Holika, a holika dahan, a bonfire with an effigy of the demoness, is burned on the night before the festival. On the next day, the streets are awash with colour as people of all different ages and communities bombard their friends and strangers with coloured powder and water. People are encouraged to lose their inhibitions. Anyone, at anytime, can suddenly find themselves surrounded and doused with colour. In this way, the festival also represents the putting aside of grievances and the celebration of community.
One game, which is commonly played, involves teams forming a human pyramid to reach a pot of butter which hangs high above the street, while bystanders throw coloured water on them. The game has its origins in the story of Krishna (another avatar of Viṣṇu), who tried to steal butter from Radha and the gopis (female cowherders). The game has featured at previous Holi events in Christchurch.
To prepare yourself for the fun of Holi, watch this scene from the Bollywood film, Mangal Pandey, based on the historical events of 1857.
Also make sure to check out Christchurch City Libraries’ collection of India related material.
Congratulations on the amazing success of the recent WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Putting together a literary festival seems a massive undertaking. How long did it take you to plan and execute?
Each festival takes a year to plan, although some foundation work is done in the preceding year as well. This year we had a fantastic and very hard working team led by Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves. My job is to plan what the festival will look like – everyone else makes it happen!
The festival featured 80 events and over 150 writers and speakers. How did you put the programme together? Or to reprise the title of one of the festival events: Where do you get your ideas from? (Did you brainstorm with a committee or were these ideas all your own?)
I do call for input of ideas from our board of trustees, who are all avid readers, and from my Twitter followers who are a clued-up bunch, but mostly the ideas come from reading books, reading coverage of books on the internet, checking upcoming publishing schedules (and publishers sometimes pitch their authors to me), and generally thinking about the issues and themes that the world is concerned with. What moves people? What troubles them? What do they want to know more about?
Outside of my work hours I am constantly thinking about the programme and can get lost for days down the rabbit hole of the internet following ideas. We also work closely with the Melbourne and Brisbane Writers’ Festivals as well as Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we send each other ideas.
How did you hear about these various authors/speakers, and how did you decide which ones to invite over?
All different ways, but here are some examples. The Canadian writers (Ivan Coyote, Elizabeth Hay and Sheila Watt-Cloutier) came to me through Hal Wake, the director of the Vancouver Writers Festival, which I attended in October last year. I saw that Tim Flannery had a book out on climate change, which was a topic I wanted to cover; his partner Kate Holden came highly recommended to me by another writer.
I found Caitlin Doughty via Twitter, where she was tweeting macabre things that appealed to me, which led me to her website where to my delight I discovered she had recently published a book. Then I saw her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year and that sealed the deal. Ali Cobby Eckermann and Elisa Washuta came through the Christchurch Sister Cities programme – both writers were recommended to me by literary people in Adelaide and Seattle respectively.
Alok Jha was recommended to me by someone who had seen him in person in the UK. John Freeman I met in Auckland last year, then again in Vancouver and New York. He was coming out for the Melbourne Writers Festival so I extended the invitation to Christchurch.
Did you start with a theme in mind or did the theme emerge later?
You send out hundreds of invitations and hope that some will stick. In this case, the ones that were sticking started revolving around two common themes – the planet and its people. Nearly all the writers who had accepted my invitation write about quite political things, whether it is the environment, gender, human rights, sexual politics, life and death. I decided to declare the Planet & its People as the official theme because I knew it would appeal to people who care about what is happening in the world right now.
The festival ranged over a myriad of topics like climate change, water, feminism, sex, positive death-acceptance, true crime, LGBT issues, poetry, migrants’ voices, war stories, inclusive cities, and political cartoons. How did you know what topics would appeal to a general audience? What combination and balance were you looking to achieve?
These are topics that engaged people care about. I was looking for a combination and balance of thought-provoking, challenging, enlightening, uplifting and entertaining.
Do your literary interests span all these different genres, topics, and cultural hot buttons? Did you read all the books featured?
I wish I could say I read books by all 150 speakers at the festival but alas no, I didn’t have the time! My personal tastes run to literary fiction and personal essays mostly, but I can still appreciate a topic and trust my sources, and I always make sure the speaker is engaging foremost.
You’ll notice I managed to smuggle my musical tastes in there as well, with the Flying Nun celebration night and Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins, and also included comics, performance poetry, live storytelling, journalism and TV writing, so WORD is no longer just about books.
Some authors were interviewed on stage; others took to the stage by themselves; and yet others were part of a panel. How did you decide which format would best showcase each author’s talents?
A lot of it was led by the writers themselves. It is a big ask to get someone to prepare an address, so many authors prefer the ‘in conversation’ format. It is good to have a mixture of both, so I always ask which format the writers prefer.
Panels are a good way to make sure an international author has more than one opportunity to be on stage; and with local writers, they are a good way to include as many writers as possible, and to cover some interesting topics beyond ‘tell us about your book’.
How did you decide who would chair each panel or interview each author?
I attend a lot of writers’ festivals and am always paying close attention to the chairs! In many cases a good chair person is as important as the speaker people have come to see. Chairing takes a certain set of skills – confidence to carry the responsibility, but also the confidence to take a back seat and not dominate.
Chairing a panel is a kind of mediation as well, where it’s essential that you allow everyone on the panel to get their word across, and be prepared for conflict. Managing audience questions is another skill! I also look for chairs who can go with the flow of conversation rather than rigidly over prepare and stick to their questions no matter what. As far as who to match with whom: instinct.
What guided your decision-making regarding workshop topics and the people who would run them?
I wanted a range of topics, and we certainly had that: fiction, song-writing, the business of publishing, memoir, indigenous storytelling. They arose from looking at who was coming and who had experience teaching. The workshops were all very popular, so we will definitely look at adding more next time – and as Tracy Farr’s fiction workshop and Scott Pack’s How to Perfect Your Submission workshop sold out so quickly, will look at more fiction workshops next time and another about getting published. The Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao workshop had three teachers in addition to the facilitator, and by all accounts they got as much out of it as the students!
What gave you the idea to launch the immensely successful new events like Oratory on the Ōtākaro, and the New Regent Pop-Up Festival?
The Ōtākaro walk was conceived in consultation with Ngāi Tahu who are a great supporter of the festival. We are keen to regularly feature Ngāi Tahu speakers and stories. Look out for more walks at future festivals!
The Pop-Up was inspired by a combination of things – wanting to expand the fringe programme which creates accessible events in interesting spaces; wanting to include as many Christchurch writers in the programme as we could; and my visit to the Lit Crawls in Seattle and San Francisco last year. The organisers are keen for us to become part of the Lit Crawl family but there is already a LitCrawl (note different spelling!) in Wellington and we don’t want to detract from that. But the New Regent Street space was an excellent way to test the waters for this kind of event, and I hope it will become a regular feature of future festivals. It added so much character to the festival.
Any kinks you want to iron out for next festival or any things you want to redress?
Yes, but I’m keeping those to myself as they kinks mostly happened behind the scenes and we need to maintain the image of a swan gliding across a still lake while its legs work furiously below the surface!
What were the personal highlights of this festival for you?
Oh, so many! I’m not supposed to have favourites, and as I was behind the scenes, I missed much of the festival. But I will say I was pretty proud to have Ivan Coyote and Caitlin Doughty, and the Hear My Voice event and Flying Nun event gave me goosebumps. I thought the Stars are on Fire showcase went perfectly (but I am biased), and hearing Tiny Ruins debut a beautiful new song just about had me in tears!
What are the perks of being the festival’s literary director?
Meeting interesting writers! Championing books, especially New Zealand books. Getting to travel to other festivals and to collaborate with them as well. I get a lot of free books, which is a big bonus of course.
What ideas have already sparked for the next festival?
As it’s two years away, I’ll be reissuing invitations to some people who couldn’t make it this time around. But look out! We have an amazing line-up in the planning for our Autumn Season in May, in partnership with Auckland Writers Festival, and will also have a programme of events within the Christchurch Arts Festival next year.
What do you do when you’re not planning literary festivals?
I should be writing books! But the festival takes up too much of my headspace at the moment, so I’ll say I like walking and reading, spending time with my kids. And I have recently taken up horse-riding after a 25 year gap, so that is my current obsession.
Thank you very much, Rachael, for your time, and congratulations once again on the success of the festival!