Looking back at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

Christchurch City Libraries team

Read all our posts from the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

The team that covered the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival this year never quite got to do its Library Liaison session, where we report back and encourage and inspire others with what we learned and encourage colleagues to have a go next year. Events have overtaken us. But here’s a few facts, some highlights, and some noise.

  • This is New Zealand’s biggest literary festival : This year’s festival set a record attendance of over 32,000 – up 21 per cent on figures in 2010.
  • There is an incredibly popular schools programme – held over two days, it offers subsidised transport to schools, and kids can bring books to be signed. Many of the top authors take the time to work with young people.
  • Web traffic always gets a bump when we cover a festival like this – it makes sense to put the library where the reading crowds are
  • Here are some of the sounds of this year’s festival, recorded in the field in Auckland: Atka Reid and Hana Schofield share some thoughts on libraries, and there’s also some crowd noise and a manic street preacher: 

Highlights

Let’s start with the New Zealand Listener Gala Night which featured eight guests telling true stories – all based on a single letter of the alphabet. It was a great format – personal, quirky, funny and hopefully, a sign of things to come. It was so much better than straight readings – not that readings aren’t great, but this was something of the author’s own life or experience that wouldn’t necessarily have made it into a book.

The largest audience ever at a festival event was An Evening with A.A. Gill which took festival entertainment to a whole new level. Gill and ‘moderator’ Al Brown had been fishing earlier in the day. Brown’s moderation mainly consisted of him dodging a succession of sharp-witted barbs from Gill, before the nerves subsided and everyone decided to play nice. Wildly entertaining.

Naomi Oreskes’ ‘Michael King Memorial Lecture’  laid out the history of the damage wrought by contrarian scientists was immense, frightening and meticulously researched. On science and doubt can be heard on Radio New Zealand’s website.

Other popular sessions included New Zealand film-maker Vincent Ward with Charlotte Ryan; James Fergusson’s hour-long exploration of the Taliban with Sean Plunket; an innovative performance of music and spoken word by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and of course, This one’s for Christchurch, which you’ll get a chance to see in September as Putting words to the feelings.  Is it any wonder the audiences turn out when the organisers manage to harness such an array of talent?

There’s always a good visual session or three at the festival, and this year Peter Simpson’s Leo Bensemann presentation was a bit of a feast. Fantastica is an awesome work – and it would be great to see a Christchurch exhibition of Bensemann’s artworks at some stage. However the real highlight for me was the elderly woman who brought in some original pieces for the author to look at. It was Antiques Roadshow in real life.

Then there was the twitter wall – technology for fun. You could tweet anything with #happy in it and there was a chance it would show up on the twitter wall above the bookstore. The camera was pointing at the crowd and if people moved, big blue dots formed around them, like hot spots. Unlike the ones that you see in airports which are actually Flash movies, this seemed to be pulling tweets from a live feed. Very cool.

It was also pretty neat to meet Rives, a poet who had you trespassing one moment, and listening to dirty talk the next.

It’s my sincere hope that we can continue to cover events like these – it’s really important for libraries to support writers, and we have a tradition of developing great writers at our library – Margaret Mahy, Bill Nagelkerke. Events like these really sharpen writing skills, and are great to give insight into the literary world.

The Auckland festival crew always look after us and are an amazing team. My thanks to them and to my colleagues who take on the challenge – their dedication, professionalism and desire to deliver made it all look easy.

2011 was my last festival for the library, as I am moving on to other things. If you get the chance to go to a festival, I encourage you to take it. You won’t be able to go and sit there and soak it all in – you’ll need to do some interviews, record some audio and edit it, take photos and learn some technical skills. Report back as fast and as fearlessly as you can – it’s a great experience and a wonderful opportunity.

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