With more than 60,000 seats filled, and an estimated 20 percent increase in ticket issues, the 2015 Auckland Writers Festival has broken all records.
For five days, people young and old flocked to the festival, which is celebrating its 15th year, to see more than 150 novelists, playwrights, song writers, scientists, historians, children’s writers, critics, editors, illustrators and poets from New Zealand and around the world .
Auckland Writers Festival director Anne O’Brien says there is no greater sign of the health of this country’s books and writing culture than this stunning outcome.
“More people came to more sessions and there were thousands of new faces. This has been the most astonishing five days. The laughter, energy, ideas, conversations, tears and joy from the audience and the writers has been remarkable.”
People travelled from as far away as the US and Australia to see Haruki Murakami’s only Southern Hemisphere festival appearance and he didn’t disappoint.
“One audience member said Murakami’s session was ‘life changing’ and another said it was ‘unrivalled in its inspiration’. We are so honoured that Murakami chose to come to the Auckland Writers Festival,” says Ms O’Brien.
Children clambered and hollered in excitement at David Walliams’ and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants’) performances, then queued patiently for more than two hours to get their books signed. Scottish actor, playwright, cabaret artist and writer Alan Cumming put on a party to a full house of more than 2,200 people who loved it as much as he did; the very cool Anthony Horowitz told kids to do something illegal, so long as they don’t get caught – fitting words for the writer of the next James Bond work; Sir Peter Williams QC shared his life’s work as a lawyer in a funny and enlightening session which ended with a standing ovation and satirists David Slack and Steve Braunias brought the house down.
We were introduced to new voices: the beauty and simplicity of Kim Thuy’s session ended with a lengthy signing queue; novelist Amy Bloom’s compassionate and deep thinking on the human condition was rapturously received; and Emily St. John Mandel’s hugely imaginative dystopian work Station Eleven saw audience members keenly seeking out her back list novels.
Scientist Philip Ball put the seemingly impossible into plain English; human rights lawyer turned novelist Zia Haider Rahman revealed some ugly world truths and wonderful words of hope; Scottish memoirist Damian Barr introduced New Zealand to a new event genre: the literary salon; everyone’s favourite critic Daniel Mendelsohn defended correct use of grammar, stating that it ‘encourages a rigour of thought’; UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy reminded us that poetry is the music of being human; former Wallaby turned sports commentator and non-fiction writer Peter FitzSimons proved he was as good at storytelling as he was at playing rugby.
Students in their thousands poured into the Aotea Centre for inspiring sessions with writers from Britain, US, Australia and New Zealand.
“Festival Associate Director, Eleanor Congreve says the schools programme increases in popularity each year.
“Next year we hope to expand the programme, offering even more students an opportunity to see their literary heroes on stage,” says Ms Congreve.
Awards were given: C.K. Stead was honoured for his life’s work in writing with a pounamu paper knife created by Coromandel artist Chris Charteris as the festival’s 2015 Honoured New Zealand Writer; Stephanie de Montalk and Steve Braunias were presented with the 2015 Nigel Cox Awards; this year’s Sarah Broom Poetry Prize went to Diana Bridge and the Royal Society of NZ Science Prize winners for 2015 are Atholl Anderson and Aroha Harris for their work Tangata Whenua.
Auckland Writers Festival Board Chair Pip Muir says it remains for her to sincerely thank the many people who made this year’s extraordinary outcome possible.
“I am enormously grateful to the authors for their wisdom and discourse, to the audience for their warmth and applause, to the sponsors and patrons for their generosity and loyal support and especially to the festival team and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make this festival possible,” says Ms Muir.
The Auckland Writers Festival warmly thanks its Gold Partners: The University of Auckland, Freemasons Foundation, New Zealand Listener, Foundation North, Creative New Zealand and ATEED; and all our Silver, Bronze and Supporting Partners.