If, like me, you are still nursing a broken heart on account of Eileen Myles' last minute withdrawal from this year's Auckland Writers Festival, fear not: we at Concrete Playground have done our darnedest to come up with a selection of appetising alternatives. In keeping with Myles' spirit, these picks showcase feminist, queer, and critical race and class-aware voices (sorry heteronormative literary establishment, the straight white boys club is out of vogue here). We have also chosen to foreground local talents, in the belief that New Zealand literature continues to be woefully under appreciated.
Victor Rodger's plays never shy away from the 'big three' — race, religion and sexuality being favourite themes throughout his oeuvre. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Black Faggot, a brilliantly wry exploration of Samoan masculinity and queerness; or last year's Puzzy, an adaptation of the former with a lesbian protagonist, will know this first-hand. As one of the convenors of the Writers Festival's workshop series, Rodger is offering attendees "a tour of the four basic tools for telling compelling stories: strong characters, believable dialogue, engaging conflict, and goals and obstacles which protagonists must face." Come and make the most of this masterclass with one of New Zealand's leading playwrights.
Janesville, Amy Goldstein's book-length study of the aftermath of the closure of a General Motors factory in Wisconsin, following the 2008 recession, was amongst Barack Obama's favourite reads for 2017. If that's not recommendation enough, Goldstein also has a Pulitzer Prize to her name. She is a writer of a rare calibre, one who tells the stories that nobody wants to hear. Luckily for us, she tells them well, so that we are forced to listen anyway. In these times of ours, cut adrift from day to day experiences by fake news, Goldstein's pieces are thrillingly and chillingly grounded in the material. She will be appearing at the festival in conversation with editor of The Spinoff, Toby Manhire.
New Zealand occupies a funny place in suffrage history; yep, it is to indulge in a bromide to say that we were the first country to grant women the vote, some 125 years ago. But beyond this, how have we continued to treat those people who identify as women? Not very well, is the short answer (and, if we dig deeper, women of working-class, queer, and people of colour roots come at the bottom of the pile). Inspired by, and responding critically to the Auckland War Memorial Museum's current exhibition Are We There Yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa, spoken word poet Tusiata Avia, theatre artist Alice Canton, essayist Emma Espiner and bilingual novelist Linda Olsso each bring a creative answer to a question we too often eschew via a plethora of platitudes.
It is hard to revivify a language. Not least because, the way we are taught to think about communication these days, is ever more utilitarian (with "emoticons, decepticons, and autobots who twist the plot"). Enter teacher-translator Hēmi Kelly, young, brilliant, and passionate about getting us all to speak te reo Māori. His recent book, A Māori Word a Day, reimagines the dictionary, thereby aspiring to make language learning fun and accessible. No surprise then, that for the Writers Festival, Kelly is offering three free workshops to fast track your te reo. Whether you are an absolute beginner, or simply looking to polish your pronunciation, come along to one of his lessons to ensure you get your festival day off to a stimulating start.
Questions such as whether or not you can call yourself a feminist and adopt a critical stance vis-à-vis the #MeToo movement will form the hub of this discussion. What would a nuanced position look like, and who can afford to take it? Come and hear a multidisciplinary evaluation of all things male privilege from scientist Hope Jahren, media specialist Ella Henry, comic actor Robert Webb, and leader of the first gender studies program in Iraqi Kurdistan, Choman Hardi.
Auckland Writers Festival 2018 takes place from May 15-20, offering six days of ideas, readings, debates, stand-up poetry, literary theatre, children's writers and free public events. More than 230 of the planet's best writers have been booked to bring a world of stories and ideas to the city. For more information, visit writersfestival.co.nz.