The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival was born of a desire to celebrate and promote literacy, reading, writing and ideas in Auckland. A community of writers, booksellers, publishers and avid readers invested grass roots enthusiasm into what has become an eagerly anticipated annual event.
Three annual festivals in 1999, 2000 and 2001 ran largely on volunteer horsepower before The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Charitable Trust was formed in 2001, and an endowment fund initiated with the support of Foundation Patrons. The festival went biennial as it built resources: the 2003 and 2005 festivals grew in scope and audience numbers before the event returned to its annual roots in 2006.
Over twelve years, more than 180,000 people have attended the festival, from an audience of around 5,000 at the first festival in 1999 to over 29,000 in 2012. A consistently growing audience has taken the festival to heart, as have over 1,200 writers, including over two hundred international writers who have visited Auckland specifically for the event.
The festival’s success is the result of a deep respect and admiration for writers and their craft, a genuine belief in the power of reading and writing, alongside impeccable planning and meticulous care of guests and the ability to respond to feedback from an ever-growing audience and each year’s writers.
We firmly believe in the power of the written word – whatever the format. We believe in the power of reading to transform lives. We believe that people want to hear about the art of writing from masters of the art. We believe our audience wants to share their transformative festival experience collectively. And we believe that the ability to communicate, reflect, and plan for the future – all of which require the essential skills of reading and writing – are ultimately life-saving skills.
The festival acts as matchmaker and taste influencer, bringing a writer “out” of the shelf for their readers and creating a lifelong relationship between writers and readers, writers and writers, and readers and readers. The festival has grown alongside its audience and speakers, and we continue to listen to constructive feedback and retain a flexible approach to programming and format. The festival brings together like-minded souls with diverse life experiences to develop our understanding of the world, challenge perceived wisdoms, and provide life-changing experiences.
We also know that while it makes no difference where a writer hails from, it can make an enormous difference to whether or not their work comes to light. Here, at the edge of the world, it’s even more important for organizations like ours to support local writers and highlight their stories in a public forum. New Zealanders have a somewhat self-deprecating nature – this festival brings our writers and thinkers to the foreground. In the age of technology, we value practicality alongside ideas and knowledge to resolve problems.
Writers at Past Festivals
The Festival enjoys both a growing international profile and strong local support. International writers at past festivals have included Izzeldin Abuelaish, Fred Allendorf, Lemon Andersen, Barbara Arrowsmith Young, Sebastian Barry, Fatima Bhutto, Carolyn Burke, Madhur Jaffrey, Cassandra Clare, Eion Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Geoff Dyer, Martin Edmond, Jeffrey Eugenides, James Fergusson, Margo Lanagan, Aminatta Forna, Paul Gilding, AA Gill, Peter James, Oliver Jeffers, Gail Jones, Claire Keegan, Lawrence Krauss, Luka Lesson, Kathy Lette, AD Miller, Caroline Moorehead, Chandran Nair, Garth Nix, Tea Obreht, Naomi Oreskes, Mel Peet, Stella Rimington, Emily Rodda, Meg Rosoff, Barbara Strauch, David Vann, Sean Williams, Jay Winter, Rives, William Dalrymple, Rick Gekoski, Colm Toibin, Adrian Wooldridge, Jill Dawson, JM Coetzee, Anne Enright, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Junot Díaz, Hermione Lee, John Gray, Richard Ford, Lionel Shriver, Tim Winton, Richard E. Grant, Pico Iyer, David Suzuki, Alice Sebold, Edmund White, Simon Singh, Caryl Philips, Mark Kurlansky, David Malouf, Amy Tan, Edward Rutherfurd, Frank Moorhouse, Robert Dessaix, Jesmyn Ward, Sarah Waters, Simon Winchester, Charlotte Wood, Jane Smiley, Kate O'Riordan and Delia Falconer.
The Festival also features top New Zealand and Pacific writers, having already hosted Maurice Gee, Patricia Grace, C.K. Stead, Bill Manhire, Witi Ihimaera, Albert Wendt, Alan Duff, Elizabeth Knox, Briar Grace-Smith, Duncan Sarkies, Charlotte Randall, Marilyn Duckworth, Owen Marshall, Catherine Chidgey and Shonagh Koea in the first five festivals.
Well-known writers Peter Wells and Stephanie Johnson initiated meetings with a group of like-minded friends in order to set up the first Auckland Writers' Festival in 1999. The Festival is now run by the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival Charitable Trust.
Peter Wells and Stephanie Johnson
Photo: © Rachel Trillo