Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird at the WORD Christchurch and Christchurch Art Gallery

BIRD + YOUNG sounds like a firm purveying fancy jewellery.  But for Hera Lindsay Bird (poet) and Ashleigh Young (poet, writer, editor), it is words and ideas that are the things they are making and selling. This WORD Christchurch event at the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was introduced by WORD’s programme director Rachael King and chaired by Amy Marr, the Visitor Programmes Coordinator of the Art Gallery.

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Hera Lindsay Bird is a poet whose works have pretty much gone viral – you might have read the one about Monica from Friends, and that Keats one – everywhere, BAM! Ashleigh Young  is a poet and writer who recently became the first New Zealander to win Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize, worth US$165,000 (NZ$230,000), for her collection of raw, real, beautifully honest essays, Can you tolerate this? Their books are both on the shortlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

It was a soggy evening, but that didn’t deter the crowd. It was full to the gunnels.

Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Crowd for Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9004

Hera and Ashleigh kicked off with some readings:

How do they get time to write when they work full time (Hera at Unity Books, Ashleigh at Victoria University Press)? It ain’t easy, but great employers help. Hera gets a paid day off each week. Ashleigh’s boss has offered time off for writing, while keeping her job open.

What followed was a discussion that ranged widely – from influences, to the IIML, sexy stuff, humour, and processes – with a good amount of Q&A time (surprise fact: lots of questions asked by men). Here’s some of the things we learned:

  • Ashleigh edited Hera Lindsay Bird’s book which she said required barely a single change. She read the manuscript on the floor, weeping and cackling.
  • Hera enjoys reading crime fiction, humour, and heaps of poetry. She’s currently reading the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
  • Ashleigh has lots of self help books concealed on her Kindle.
  • Ashleigh said she can’t remember not wanting to write (but always knew she’s need a day job to pay the bills)
  • Hera’s parents had star charts – not for good behaviour but for writing, and she would get paid to write poems. She wondered if her Coromandel hippy parents fancied her as the next Laura Ranger (remember Laura’s Poems?)
  • Hera feels the support of her family and knows that even if she writes something explicit, her Dad will be chill with it.

Photos

See our pics from the event.

Quotable Quotes

I don’t think either of us leave the house very much. (Hera)

I really love New Zealand actually. (Ashleigh)

This whole thing is terrible for my process. (Ashleigh, on this talk and writer events when you are an introvert writer)

I love her blurriness. (Ashleigh, on Lydia Davis)

People know both Renoir and Taylor Swift. (Hera, on art and pop culture)

George Saunders is my favourite living writer. (Hera)

All the sex in it is kind of a joke. (Hera, on her book)

Even Bill Manhire can be really funny. (Ashleigh)

I don’t find anything moving that I didn’t find funny first. (Hera)

Book signing - Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird
Book signing – Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird. Flickr 2017-03-22-IMG_9027

An Ashleigh and Hera playlist

Here are some of the many writers, poets, and musicians namechecked by Ashleigh and Hera:

  • Lydia Davis – Ashleigh loves her writing: “Something about her voice makes me want to write myself”.
  • Both name checked Frank O’Hara.
  • NZ poet James Brown
  • Hera is inspired by Mark Leidner, Chelsey Minnis, PG Wodehouse
  • Anne Carson – intense beauty, no humour. (Hera)
  • Ashleigh: Mark Greif – Against Everything
    “The opinions he expresses have a finality to them whereas Lydia Davis’ work seems like everything is still forming in front of her”
  • Hera recommended Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders. He is coming to the Auckland Writers Festival this year.
  • Ashleigh currently listening to Grandaddy the band – for a nostalgic ‘so bad it’s good’ hit.
  • Hera was asked about her use of a text generator in writing a poem in the book. She said she liked to play and experiment with language and referenced This Paper Boat  by Gregory Kan.

Amy – who was a great and enthusiastic facilitator for this session –  heartily recommended The TOAST website.

What’s next

Hera is heading off to a couple of overseas festivals.

Ashleigh is writing poems, and is off to New Haven, Connecticut to collect the Windham-Campbell Prize (and go to New York with the other recipients).

Both are working on new books. Slowly, surely.

Donna R and Kim M

“All Eyes” – Justin Cronin – WORD Christchurch

“All eyes” I sure will keep my eyes out for those “virals,” “flyers,” “slims” or “smokes”.

Signed copy of The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin had us all eating out of his hand during his interview with local young adult author Karen Healey.

His motivation for writing his virals trilogy – still can’t bear to call them vampires – was his daughter Iris who was then something like 9 years old. A prodigious reader she had taken a look at his previous novels Mary and O’Neil and  The Summer Guest and pronounced them boring and wanted to read a book about a girl who saved the world! Each day they would cycle around Houston and talk about what would be in such a book. Through this process he lost his inner critic.

Iris has an audiographic memory (like a photographic memory but for sound) she would always know what chapter they where up to when returning to a book. She had lots of suggestions –  there would be a girl with red hair like her and she named the characters. There was only one rule about what would be in the book – it had to be interesting. After a while he realised his current novel wasn’t going so well and he had 30 pages of notes so he thought he’d write the first chapter and see if it went anywhere – and here we are ten years later with the last volume of the trilogy.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6021

An English professor at Rice University, his only rule for Iris at college is don’t take any creative writing courses I can do that. Now  publishing her own work it looks like dad has successfully taught her the family business although I don’t know who taught who …

Why vamps? They are the most interesting out of the four monsters in human form: Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Although I wonder if he forgot about yeti, and Karen was putting a great case for old-fashioned fairies. He excuses himself saying those other Vampire stories were not on his radar, at the time Twilight had only just come out.

At the heart of the vampire noir is the premise that immortality is a terrible state to reassure us that we would rather be human than live forever. He takes vamps and puts them into a new narrative and that’s what makes it interesting. Vamps but with a twist –  you’ve always got to bring something else in to make it interesting like a road trip and a viral epidemic. He was inspired by a couple of B grade movies one called Near Dark directed by the talented Kathryn Bigelow. It blended to the western narrative of a drifters story also Magic Johnson had just come out and there was the AIDs epidemic.

Justin’s not averse to a bit of vampire seduction but in a different way, a seduction utilising rhetoric. Fanning as the charismatic narrator, Fanning sitting around for all those years in a library reading books using language to seduce Amy. A rhetorical seduction to make us feel sympathy with him.

On characters and community

  • Since you are running for your life what is the one thing you would carry with you? In most cases people would carry someone else, therefore you have a love story and bonds of community.
  • Survival is not sufficient. We read end of the world stories for reassurance and resurrection is an important part of that.
  • You need survivors to have hope for their children. You think what does it mean to have a child? A child is a deal you make with the future.

Describing the novels as an apocalyptic western road trip,  part of the inspiration for The Passage trilogy was the depressing world events at the time. Hurricane Katrina had just hit, G.W. Bush had been re-elected and a second less known Hurricane Rita had triggered an evacuation of Houston which he found himself in the midst of.

One morning stuck on the motorway at 2 am going nowhere in a massive traffic jam watching the fuel gauge go down he did the maths and decided they weren’t going to make it out and made a u-turn and headed back home. Luckily the main force of the hurricane hit further off than predicted.

He is interested in the response of community to disasters like the Christchurch earthquake how community survives. Community is a social lifeboat with a group of mostly good people who are resilient.

Why Mirrors

“The vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and after a certain age that is the case with everybody”.

On making things creepy

I look to nature things that creep me out like fish why do they all turn the same way like that? Crickets how they can jump so much further than their body length, the virals are like bugs in hives.

On imagination

He deliberately doesn’t describe the virals too much leaving it to you to bring the things that scare you to your picture of them. Everyone’s picture of a viral would be different. That’s why movies can be disappointing and on that topic he has sold the film rights but it may be a TV show will eventuate. TV shows are now where the story is at not so many special effects.

Favourite things

Watching The walking dead and The Americans.

What drives him crazy

When the guns don’t run out of ammo on The Walking dead, and cars start whose batteries would have gone for years and the tyres aren’t flat. You have to think these things through.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6032

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

About a Boy – WORD Christchurch

Canada’s Elizabeth Hay and New Zealand’s Tanya Moir and Emma Neale talked with Morrin Rout about their novels – all of which feature a boy finding his way.

Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.
Elizabeth Hay, Image supplied.

CoverEach author talked about their boy before reading a passage from their novel. Elizabeth Hay introduced Jim, ten years old, and in a car on the way to Lake Ontario, asks of his parents “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” Jim is a boy out of step with where he is in life, a cross border boy (a Canadian mother and New Yorker father) sorting out who has claims on his love and loyalty.

Tanya Moir introduces us to Winstone Blackhat at age 12, he is living on his own, living rough above the dams in Central Otago, sees himself as an outlaw and is surviving by fishing and stealing food from tourists.

Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.
Tanya Moir. Photo by Fiona Tomlinson. Image supplied.

CoverEmma Neale’s Billy is 8 (going on 9) and is a quirky, imaginative child whose vivid imagination becomes a problem to his parents when he believes he is a bird.

Each author read a passage from their novel. There is something magical about authors reading aloud from their own work, the characters come to life as the writer intended and the audience is left wanting to know more.

Morrin asked how did they each decide how to tell the story of their boy? Elizabeth said “His Whole Life” came about from a long drive she was on with her own son and he asked that question “what is the worst thing you have ever done?”. She was unable to answer that question at the time and he was unable to tell her in return his worst thing but the question remained. She wanted to explore that question further so created her fictional characters and set them on a journey to further explore the mother / son bond. The character of George the husband explores the notion of the husband as a fifth wheel.

Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.
Emma Neale. Photo by Graham Warman Burns. Image supplied.

CoverTanya said “The Legend of Winstone Blackhat” told Winstone’s story through the mechanism of a Western film inside his imagination. Winstone’s thoughts and feelings are described by a third person character, not by him directly.

Emma “Billy Bird” said she wanted to write a verse novel with three distinct voices, the three voices are those of Billy, his mother and his father. This allowed her not to be limited to the child’s perspective but his voice was playful and madcap and lifted the book when the subject matter deals with tragedy.

Elizabeth’s novel deals with the question “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” but links in Canadian politics and the question of “will Quebec ever leave Canada?”  Canada and Quebec is described as a bad marriage – where Quebec really needs to leave. Quebec can also be described as an adolescent who will never achieve independence without leaving Canada.

Tanya’s novel is cinematic, she has taken the devices and clichés of cinema and put these back into words. She described writing her novel as imagining it as a movie scene with a camera tracking though the shoot and taking that and turning it into a sentence doing the same tracking with words.

Emma explored the family seeking counselling help to deal with their tragedy. Billy’s bird behaviour is a problem so she looked at what options would a family have to get help? She did this through researching and talking to professionals – but noted that sometimes the writer needs to abandon the research and let the character lead.

Read

More WORD Christchurch

Cath Parr

Sex, & Sex, drugs & Rock n roll, & rock n roll – WORD Christchurch

IMG_5797Warning: as the title indicates, there may be some adult content in this post.

There is nothing like being ushered into a writers festival session with the question”Sex, drugs, and rock n roll?” It feels very non-cardigany!

This was a bit of an ongoing theme of my WORD Christchurch experience. First up, on Thursday evening I went to the launch of new erotic magazine Aotearotica at the New Regent Street pop-up.

Melanie McKerchar
Aotearotica at G+A Creative. Readers/Performers: Isabelle McNeur, Jodi Sh. Doff, Melanie McKerchar, and Laura Borrowdale. New Regent St popup festival.WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Flickr 2016-08-25-IMG_5746

The readings were fabulously varied in their saucy flavours. After an intro by Aotearotica editor Laura Borrowdale, Melanie read a sexy jewel from Anaïs Nin, Isabelle shared her honest raw love tales, and Jodi Sh. Doff told a story about a verrrry seductive subway ride.

By the way, if you can write or draw, Aotearotica is looking for submissions for Volume Two.

After the sex, the Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll. This session featured more of the middle vice. Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright, and Kate Holden with Charlotte Graham (who was a very clued up chair). Charlotte wondered why sex, drugs and rock n roll books have such appeal? Taboo and rite of passage were two suggestions.

Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Panel for Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll: Charlotte Graham, Kate Holden, Bianca Zander, Jodi Wright. Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5808

Kate read stories about drugs before she became an addict – but while she was using, she read fantasy books. As heroin took hold in Australian in the 1990s, it appealed to soft, dreamy types because when the world is a bit abrasive “opiates are a great softener of that feeling”. She also explained how “anthropologically fascinating” brothels are – incredibly moving, compulsively interesting.

Kate’s memoir In my skin shows how important her family is, and she made a good point:

Family doesn’t get written about much in junkie memoirs.

Now that her memoir’s film rights have sold, everyone is re-reading and they are impressed all over again.

Jodi Wright - Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll
Jodi Wright, Flickr 2016-08-27-IMG_5800

CoverJodi couldn’t remember enough to write a memoir, so used her experience as the basis of a novel. She tried to find out what caused her addiction, going to psychiatrists to find the inciting incident: “What I needed to do was get unstuck”:

The story is what I have.

CoverBianca “always wanted to write a great rock n roll novel … I don’t think this is it”. It’s elusive trying to capture the spirit of rock n roll in words. Her book The Predictions was inspired by a story about an ashram kid, parented by the whole group, who went looking for his mum in a crowd. She thought about those kids without a solid foundation, unmoored out there in the world.

Two  points I took away from this session:

  • Good “Sex, drugs, and rock n roll” novels and memoirs take away the feeling of other, and make us think “us”.
  • Men are often feted for doing/writing this kind of stuff, and yet women get demonised. Hmmm.

And finally the rock n roll. I went to the Flying Nun In love with these times session at Blue Smoke. It was a joy. Russell Brown was our MC and on stage were Roger Shepherd, Graeme Downes, Jay Clarkson, Bruce Russell, and Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins). There were plenty of Flying Nun alumni in the audience which definitely added to the flavour. Roger Shepherd’s book is not just a great tale about a music scene, it’s a pretty powerful look into Christchurch’s history too.

Highlights? Jay Clarkson playing Spooky, and her perspectives on being a young mum and muso. Graeme Downes’ new song Dunedin Spleen (and his general loucheness and academic nous). Russell Brown’s super knowledgeable MCing and questions. The lugubrious Bruce Russell. This was something special.

More Sex, Drugs, and rock n roll

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

How to start a magazine – The Sunday Fringe at WORD Christchurch

The Sunday Fringe at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was at one of my favourite new Christchurch places – Space Academy / Kadett Cafe in St Asaph Street. It’s just such a pleasant space to be in – great hot drinks, yummy food, AND an exhibition of The Smiths posters.

I was keen to go to this session, being a magazine lover from way back – raised on Twinkle, Tammy, and Misty comics, then Mizz, Q, Select, NME, British Vogue … Also, the library has just launched a magazine uncover – huraina.

The panellists on How to start a mag are eminently qualified to talk MAGAZINES: Debbie Stoller’s mag-baby is BUST (up to issue 100), Luke Wood (Cheap Thrills), and Duncan Greive from online mag The Spinoff (via Real Groove). The session was ably chaired by RDU’s breakfast host James Dann.

How to start a magazine
How to start a magazine. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5856

In the world of magazines, the tension between quality content and business/advertising/the Web is massive:

  • Don’t sell your soul to the advertisers. Magazines can become deformed by demands of the advertiser and fat with ad pages.
  • The culture and the capital are never going to be compatible.
  • How on earth do magazines make money?
  • How do you sell magazines when there are fewer bookshops and less people buying mags?
  • Why would people buy content they can get free on the web?
  • NZ Herald and Stuff are both trying to be gossip sites, magazines, and provide serious news. The broken economic model dictates incoherence.
  • A world without intelligent discourse gets you Trump and Brexit.
Duncan Greive at How to start a magazine
Duncan Greive. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5852

Who wants to advertise to smart, funny feminists? Turns out – no-one.

Debbie Stoller at How to start a magazine
Debbie Stoller. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5850

So why make a magazine when it’s all against you? The big driver is PASSION. As Luke Wood said:

As a designer I guess I do fetishize the object. Somehow when it is in print, it is more archived. I believe in the content that we’re publishing.

And the experience of reading a magazine is different to consuming “weird snackable crap” on the internet. Debbie Stoller said:

It’s the quality of the time that you spend with it. It’s a more quiet focused time – it sticks in your memory more.

Luke Wood at How to start a magazine
Luke Wood. Flickr 2016-08-28-IMG_5853

I can’t finish with mentioning this rather splendid quote from James:

Magazines smell really good; the Internet doesn’t.

Agreed.

WORD Christchurch

Photos from How to start a magazine

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.

Sister Cities/First Nations – WORD Christchurch

We all consider ourselves good people, so it can be confronting to realise that we’re unwittingly contributing to oppression. For peace of mind it can seem easier to ignore the evidence rather than engage in change, thinking if we cover our eyes then it isn’t there, it’s all the past, it doesn’t affect me. Or we go to the other extreme, demand our education from those we meet rather than listen to those already speaking.

Ali Cobby Eckermann. Photo by Adrain Cook. Image supplied.
Ali Cobby Eckermann. Photo by Adrain Cook. Image supplied.

Ali Cobby Eckermann (Aboriginal Australian descended from the Yankunytjatjara language group) and Elissa Washuta (member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe) are two who are well worth listening to. First Eckermann read from her poem Black Deaths in Custody:

when I walk down this wing and peer

into this filthy room the door closes behind me

the feeling in my heart is changing

from a proud strength of duty to fear

all the stories I have ever heard

stand silent in the space beside me—

a coil of rope is being pushed

under the door of this cell

And Washuta read out her essay This Indian Does Not Owe You, which I recommend reading in full:

When you quiz me on genocide highlights — “Were those smallpox blankets real? I’ve always wondered about that” — to sate your hunger for facts, I do not owe you a free education of the kind that my university students pay for, and I am not so flattered by your interest in my people that I might unfurl a lecture on 500 years of colonization for your edification.

Elissa Washuta. Photo by Elizabeth Ogle. Image supplied.
Elissa Washuta. Photo by Elizabeth Ogle. Image supplied.

Nic Low asked about the role of anger in writing. Both have been through traumatic experiences – rape, disordered eating, the removal of a child – but are still gentle, kind people in person. Writing provides a safe space for anger. Eckermann brought up the idea of good anger and bad anger, and Washuta responded:

We have that bad anger and what do you do with it? A lot of us just destroy ourselves with drugs and alcohol, because that bad anger has just embedded itself, and then we’re told Oh that’s all in the past, that was hundreds of years ago, get over it. The reality is that in our communities we are experiencing ongoing colonisation every day, all the time. We are still a colonised people.

Eckermann agreed – they don’t want to hurt others, so they hurt themselves. She hopes writing can bring us closer to a collective understanding and healing. By acknowledging pain, maybe some can begin to heal.

Cover of Inside My MotherWho are you writing for?

Initially I thought I was writing for myself, or for my community, but now I think I’m writing for the future. Poetry is supposed to change and inform lives… I mean statistically we know that one in four women is raped in their lifetime, but we have to share our stories so it’s not just statistics, it’s life lived. – Eckermann

I wanted to see people like me on the page – I didn’t know any other native people at college, I was diagnosed bipolar, raped, had an eating disorder, and to me they all seemed interconnected but I couldn’t find anything that reflected my own experience. So my books are a gift to other college students. I knew there had to be other people like me, and there are. – Washuta

How do you feel about your country?

I’d like to remove the culture of denial in Australia.  It’s been really rewarding going to other countries that know their histories, who aren’t afraid of their history. — Eckermann

There’s this cheerful narrative about the brave pioneers who crossed the continent to create something out of the “pristine untouched wilderness” when really people were doing all sorts of maintenance work. The pioneers just didn’t understand how the land was being used, or couldn’t see it. But it’s always “It’s really nice that the Indians helped the settlers make something out of this super boring place.” — Washuta

The session ended with a plea for greater friendship and connection in the face of the tsunami of racism that seems to be washing over the world.

So listen to others. Be kind. And go read their books.

WORD Christchurch

Reimagining Journalism – WORD Christchurch

Relentless and unstoppable digital forces have changed the flows of information in recent years. And there’s no going back. There’s a multiplicity of media sources out are all vying for our precious time: pushing hard news and hard bodies at us through every possible platform.
Arguably, no other sector of the economy has been rattled by such changes as that profession and bastion and truth – journalism!

To discuss this, an extensive panel was formed at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Cate Brett, Simon Wilson, Morgan Godfrey, Duncan Greive and Paula Penfold got together on stage and thrashed it all out. The message seemed to be that such circumstances are a mixed blessing.

Simon Wilson. Image supplied.
Simon Wilson. Image supplied.

Some say “the news has been democratized”, giving everyone with a digital device “a voice”. But then, “everyone” includes your friendly neighbourhood skinhead. Others claim we’re all being exploited by commercial entities, who distract us from real issues by pitching to our carnal desires. Little New Zealand media sources can’t compete with behemoth businesses, resourced to catch a bigger share of public attention.

So, how do wholesome Kiwi journalists and news sources secure capital to compete for space within the saturated market, which is rather dominated by cashed up multinationals? Annoyingly, so many solutions seem to present a paradox – because the most critical and fundamental principle underpinning “The News” is OBJECTIVITY. Therefore, relying on government funding becomes a problem if your scrutinizing the behaviour of government: “biting the hand that feeds you”!

Getting help from unions or trusts was pitched as means to secure funding. But then, that’s also a problem when such entities also have political and ideological positions which journos feel compelled to honour!

And then there is advertising, which also means pandering to cut throat corporatism … These are some of the most important questions of right now. Because a robust and free press is right up there with free and fair elections and the right to vote!

CoverFortunately, an awesome new book has been released, which seeks to address the flux with innovative angles – Don’t Dream It’s Over: Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Check it out.

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