Volunteers part of festival success

During the festival one of the many chats I had with people was this lovely interview with Patricia Kay from North Shore Libraries. In this three-minute interview, she describes the roles of volunteers, and some of the perks of the job.

Later this week we’ll have audio of interviews with corporate and economics commentator, Rod Oram, and since it’s New Zealand Music month a chat with Don McGlashan.

Not a shy African woman

An hour with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Chaired by Paula Morris this session provided another full-house and an insightful look at the issues of interest to this relatively new and exciting author. The thing around your neck, Chimamanda’s first collection of short stories, explores cultural clash and the migrant experience, building on the success of her earlier prize-winning novels Half of a yellow sun and Purple hibiscus

Paula Morris opened her questions by asking Chimamanda whether she was conscious of an African and Nigerian identity while growing up in a middle-class home in Nsukka. Chimamanda answered that she had no real sense of being anything other than Ebu, a Nigerian tribe, and that it was only when she left Nigeria to attend John Hopkins University in the US that she was viewed as African and suddenly expected by her teachers and fellow student to be an authority on all things African. She added that while to some extent she had to accept the label of Nigerian and African writer, she felt uncomfortable representing a whole continent. She also talked of having the authenticity of her first novel Purple hibiscus questioned by a white, male American university professor because her African characters drove cars and weren’t starving!

Spending half her time in the US, Chimamanda believes allows her to look at Nigeria from the outside, making her clearer eyed. This sentiment was also echoed in a later session by Tash Aw who also finds his voluntary exile in London affords him more clarity in analysing his home country of Malaysia. But Nigeria was she said “where her heart is” and while her country often infuriates her she belongs there and “loves it very deeply”.

Chimamanda was outed as an Enid Blyton fan, she joked she was reading the Famous Five back in her hotel room, and that her teenage years were spent in the quest for lashings of ginger beer. The fact she had never actually managed to taste ginger beer was remedied by one of the ARWF crew who brought her a Bundaberg, how topping! When questions were opened to the floor one gentleman complimented her on her modest demeanour while waiting to come on stage and called her a traditional “shy African woman”, a compliment Chimamanda was not having a bar of. Talented, beautiful, intelligent and not shy, an hour with Chimamanda was a real delight.

Saturday’s Festival wrap-up

We recorded this wrap-up at the Aotea Centre where the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize was announced.

We had two very special guests, Vanda Symon, a Dunedin crime writer, and Christos Tsiolkas, who had just been named winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. After sterling work blogging all day, Robyn was kicking her heels up at The Pussy Cat Dolls and Lady Gaga concert.

Understandably this post is a little longer, approximately 17 minutes, but we think you’ll find its worthwhile hearing our guests, who take us on quite a wide-ranging discussion.

We also hope to have some more images on flickr soon – and please keep your comments coming in.

And while we had an absolute blast last night, the coverage continuees today with a full day of sessions:

  • Stevan Eldred-Grigg makes his appearance and Moata will be there
  • Mohammad Hanif – who won best first book at the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize last night – will read
  • Other international guests Monica Ali and Judith Thurman are on stage
  • Joanne Drayton will talk about Ngaio Marsh
  • A panel will gaze into the next 100 years
  • Poetry readings, songwriting and more!

Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winners are:

Best First Book: Mohammad Hanif – A case of exploding mangoes.

Hanif paid thanks to Jill Rawnsley, festival director. Hanif said his son even stopped playing PSP for a minute!

Dedicated award to Dept of Immigration and Customs – he was delayed by them for two hours. Apparently they wouldn’t let his son (or someone in the group) go to the toilet.

He ended his speech by saying: Thank you very much I’ll now go and pee!

Best Book: Christos Tsiolkas The Slap.

He said: Great pride to be in the company of other fantastic and brilliant writers and comrades and generous people. There is no competition in art. I can’t believe I’m gonna meet the Queen and my mum said I have to ask for the Parthenon marbles back.

Vanda Symon is our guest on the wrap up tonight – to be recorded at the Aotea Centre.

Commonwealth Writers Prize Regional winners announced

Will this win?  Dont ask me, Im bound to be wrong.
Will this win? Don't ask me, I'm bound to be wrong.

It just goes to show that I’m nothing if not a really rubbish literary pundit. When the Commonwealth Writers Prize regional shortlists were announced I put my money on Aravind Adiga to at least make it through to the semis. Twas not to be however and I am left to reflect upon the fact that projecting popularity is not a strong suit of mine (when I first heard about The Piano I thought it sounded like the kind of movie that people would stay away from in droves – so I have a history of getting this sort of thing wrong).

So perhaps I should just stick to facts, just the facts (ma’am) and tell you that a single New Zealand book has made it through to the final “round” of judging in the awards. The year of the Shanghai Shark by Mo Zhi Hong will compete with the following titles in the “Best First Book” category –

  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif (Pakistan)
  • Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas (Canada)
  • Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan (Nigeria)

A full list of the regional winners in can be viewed on the official website. The winner will be announced at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival on 16 May.

Kiwi writers make Commonwealth shortlist

Among the economic doom and gloom, the dropping New Zealand dollar might turn out to be very good news for the Kiwi writers chasing the thousands of pounds on offer in the Commonwealth Writers Prize competition.

Three New Zealanders have been shortlisted: Paula Morris’s Forbidden cities is included in the best book section, while both Mo Zhi Hong (The year of the Shanghai shark) and Bridget Van der Zijpp (Misconduct) have been nominated for the best first book award.

Finalists in each of the four regional areas are announced mid-March with the winners announced at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival in May. All of the finalists are taking part in the festival.

The full list of short-listed entries can be found on the Commonwealth Foundation website. Head to the library website for more literary prize news.

Commonwealth Writers Prize nominations announced

This year’s Commonwealth Writers Prize is being hosted here in New Zealand.  In 2007 a Kiwi author was triumphant with Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip coming up trumps.  Will this be repeated in 2009 to the delight of the home crowd?  Who knows?

The New Zealand authors who feature in the shortlist are Paula Morris for Forbidden Cities (Best book), Mo Zhi Hong for the young adult novel The year of the Shanghai shark and Bridget van de Zijpp for Misconduct (both nominated in the Best First Book category).

My money would be on Aravind Adiga to win something given his double nomination.  His debut White Tiger has already picked up the Man Booker and is nominated again for Best First Book, and his second offering Between the Assassinations is up for Best Book.  It’s good to be Aravind, I think.

The award winners will be announced in May as part of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.