Tomboys, Dead Gophers, and a Coyote – Ivan Coyote at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Funny, tender, perceptive – Ivan Coyote is all these things, and on Monday night I was lucky enough to see them talk at The Piano as part of the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season.

I was really disappointed to miss Ivan on their last trip to Christchurch last year, so as soon as I learnt they would be back this year, I made sure to get my ticket in my hot little hand. I have been a fan of Ivan’s work since reading Missed Her several years ago, and have only become more of a fan with Gender Failure and Tomboy Survival Guide.


The audience who attended An Evening with Ivan Coyote was – to quote one of my neighbours – ‘quite an eclectic crowd’. Despite any differences in age, gender, or any other identifier, however, everyone was completely drawn in by the stories of growing up in small-town CanadaWhat’s it like to be the only little girl in the world who didn’t want to grow up to be Princess Di on her wedding day? Why open the door to someone empty-handed when there is plenty of road-kill around to offer? What songs would you include in the soundtrack of your life? And how cool is it to live near a World Record-holding giant squash?!

Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote. Image supplied.

Much of the material was from Tomboy Survival Guide, Ivan’s most recent book, but the fact that I’d already read the stories did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the evening. Ivan’s portrayal of different characters had me laughing out loud, nodding in agreement with their observations of life, love and public toilets, and feeling like I was watching more than just one person. The elderly grandmothers, the best friend from childhood, and the ball players and sports coaches – Ivan’s storytelling and use of voices  brought these characters to life, and it was a parade of the weird and the wonderful that we saw up on stage.

With a large number of gender-diverse audience members, Ivan also had words of encouragement and support for those who don’t look or act the way boys and girls ‘should’ look and act – be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and embrace what it is that makes you individual and unique. Be yourself, and know that asking people to use the ‘singular they’ pronoun to refer to you is not going to cause the end of the world!

Ivan is a fantastic storyteller, with some great stories to tell, and I look forward to hearing more from them. With sold-out audiences this year and last, Ivan has said they will be back, and I know that there will be keen interest in their next show. Until we hear about their next visit down to Aotearoa New Zealand, however, have a read of Ivan’s books available here at the library.

An evening with Ivan Coyote – Tuesday 16 May at WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Last year, I went to two events run by WORD Christchurch, and I fell in love with Ivan E Coyote.

Ivan Coyote. Image supplied.
Ivan Coyote. Image supplied.

Cover of 'Tomboy Survival Guide' by Ivan CoyoteI 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.

Cover of 'Missed Her' by Ivan CoyoteAt 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.

Luckily for all of us – Ivan is coming back to Christchurch soon, at the Piano on the 16th of May. It’s a late-ish session – 8pm – and I’m preparing myself for an intimate, honest, hilarious, heart-aching evening.

Cover of Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan CoyoteAnd 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.

Ivan Coyote: Tuesday 16 May 8pm

Six of the best – Ian Rankin, Anne Enright, and more top writers coming to Christchurch!

WORD Christchurch has joined forces with the Auckland Writers Festival to bring amazing authors to Christchurch in May.

The WORD Autumn Season, which runs from 14 to 17 May, features:

  • Bestselling Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin;
  • Man Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist Anne Enright;
  • 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 Autumn Season

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.

What should you do now?

  1. Have a good look at the programme of events on the WORD Christchurch website.
  2. 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.
  3. Get reading these six writers – visit our page WORD Autumn Season and find their books in our collection. Or go to your local bookshop.

See you at the WORD Autumn season!

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