The City of Sails placed itself at the heart of the written world this week as the Auckland Writers Festival broke its own record, with over 65,000 seats filled.
People young and old flocked to the festival, which is celebrating its 16th 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 the enormous enthusiasm and increasing attendance is testament to people’s hunger for more substantive conversations and deeper engagement with the world and each other.
“We know that literate citizens live better lives and build better worlds and we’re delighted to have played our part in cultivating literacy in the country over the last six days.
“This has been the most astonishing six days. The laughter, energy, ideas, conversations, tears and joy from audience and writers alike has been remarkable.
“People travelled from around the country and across the world, and left inspired with stories of change, hope and a deeper understanding of the role they, as individuals, can play in the world.”
Headline star and iconic feminist, Gloria Steinem, sent her sold out audience home with messages of empowerment and wisdom. John Boyne, Hanya Yanagihara, Jeanette Winterson, Susie Orbach and Michel Faber moved their audiences to tears. Omar Musa and King Kapisi brought the house down andThe Emergency Poet ran out of poemcetocol.
We learned from Scott Hamilton that refugees from Auckland fled down Great South Road during the New Zealand Wars in a manner not dissimilar to today’s Syrian citizens, Steve Braunias regaled his packed audience with true stories of blood and gore in Godzone and Helene Wong’s humane and intelligent Michael King Memorial Lecture received a sustained standing ovation.
More than 5,000 students poured into the Town Hall for inspiring sessions with writers from Britain, US, Australia and New Zealand.
“Fostering a love of reading and books, and a belief in all young people that they, too can write their stories is hugely important to us,” says Ms O’Brien.
The schools’ programme increased from two to three days this year, enabling two dedicated sessions for Years 5 and 6 students, as well as a full additional day for Years 9-13 students. All students left the programme with a free book of stories published by the festival. In addition, the transport subsidy funded by the festival has increased this year, assisting more low decile and regional school students to attend and the Festival, with the support of patrons, sponsored three lower decile schools to attend with selected students also taking part in a mentoring programme.
The cream of this country’s writers received honours at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – New Zealand’s premier literary awards - which were hosted by the festival for the first time this year. Stephen Daisley was presented with the inaugural $50,000 Acorn Foundation Literary Prize.
Vincent O’Sullivan 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 and this year’s Sarah Broom Poetry Prize went to Elizabeth Smither.
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 engagement, 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 such a success,” says Ms Muir.
The Auckland Writers Festival warmly thanks its Gold Partners: The University of Auckland, Freemasons Foundation, Ockham, SPARK, New Zealand Listener, Foundation North, Creative New Zealand and ATEED; and all our Silver, Bronze and Supporting Partners.