Audiences from all over Aotearoa and farther afield descended on Tāmaki Makaurau from 11 to 16 May to attend the 2021 Auckland Writers Festival, tipping attendance at the six-day programme to over 60,000.
After a 2020 hiatus due to COVID, the halls of Auckland’s Aotea Centre and surrounding venues once again burst with activity across six days of kōrero, performance, talks, poetry, reading and writing.
Auckland Writers Festival Director Anne O’Brien says the response to the programme has been incredible.
“It’s been invigorating and humbling to see people flooding the halls, engaged in animated conversations, meeting their favourite writers, listening to a vast range of fascinating talks, experiencing incredible performances, and celebrating all things books and ideas,” O’Brien says.
In response to the borders being closed this year, the Auckland Writers Festival incorporated a bespoke series of livestreamed, in-venue events featuring guests including Kazuo Ishiguro, Ai Weiwei, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Byrne, Yiyun Li, Marilynne Robinson, Mary Karr, Michael Robotham, Shaun Tan, Monique Roffey, Douglas Stuart, and Mohamed Hassan, alongside a full programme of live events with NZ-resident writers.
O’Brien says, “We are a live event and this will always be our kaupapa. However, for obvious reasons we needed to approach this year slightly differently. We were delighted to still be able to offer our audiences the chance to hear from some of the world’s preeminent authors – in some instances from their own homes, which was an added treat.”
The 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards welcomed a record crowd of 700. The first event of the Festival’s public programme, it was opened by Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern. Airini Beautrais took away the $57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction for her outstanding short story collection, Bug Week. Other winners included poet Tusiata Avia, senior literary figure Vincent O’Sullivan, and chef and food writer Monique Fiso.
During the Festival’s hugely popular Schools Programme, more than 6000 students from across the motu, filled the Aotea Centre for inspiration, readings, superb questions, and laughter.
Māori and Pasifika voices all shone across specially curated programmes and beyond, and a ground-breaking anthology of emerging Asian writers was launched in an event attended by more than 200.
And more than 1000 people crammed into shops, venues and spaces in Karangahape Road for the Festival’s annual, free STREETSIDE event, filled with writerly frolics.
The Festival opened its live programme on Friday 14 May honouring the great Brian Turner for his contribution to New Zealand literature, and closed on Sunday 16 May with an extraordinary reunion of seven of its nine honoured writers in conversation with Michele A’Court. The outstanding line-up included Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, Fiona Kidman, Vincent O’Sullivan, CK Stead, Albert Wendt, and Brian Turner.
Auckland Writers Festival Board Chair, Pip Muir, says the last fifteen months have been challenging for all and the Board and staff of the Festival are thrilled and grateful to be able to bring this wonderful, live event back to the city of Tāmaki Makaurau.
“We’re deeply appreciative of the extraordinary work that has gone into delivering this Festival,” Muir says. “Our immense thanks go to the dedicated team, the loyal and enthusiastic audiences, our financial and artistic supporters whose generous commitment has made it all possible, and, of course, our wonderful writing whānau.”
The Auckland Writers Festival warmly acknowledges the unwavering support of Platinum Partner Heartland Bank; Gold Partners The University of Auckland, Barfoot and Thompson, Freemasons Foundation, Ockham and Creative New Zealand; and all Silver, Bronze and Supporting Partners and Patrons.