Whakanuia: 6 Things Not to Miss at Auckland Writers Festival 2019
Auckland Writers Festival 2019 has officially opened. Some of the best events have already sold out! But don’t panic. The Pantograph Punch team has picked out six other events we’re most excited about and for which (at the time of writing) tickets are still available. See you there!
Everyday Acts of Racism: The University of Auckland Festival Forum
Wednesday 15 May, 7:30pm – 8:45pm
Waikato student Nida Fiazi is the author of this excellent essay on The Sapling about her journey as a young refugee from Afghanistan to Nauru to New Zealand, and how stories and books have intersected with her life. She’s joined in this panel by inimitable and established Kiwi writers Leonie Hayden and Victor Roger, alongside international guests David Chariandy (Canada) and Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany). Of course, given recent events, the irony of this event being sponsored by the University of Auckland is not lost. But $12 from every ticket purchased to this event will be donated to the victims of the 15 March attack, which is a really decent and fitting gesture. —Hannah Newport-Watson
Friday 17 May, 11:30am – 12:30pm
Food is at the core of our ethnic and social identities. What we do and don't eat, how we eat and who we eat with are huge markers of who we belong to. Eating is deeply personal to us – I mean, we're literally ingesting something into our bodies.
I want to hear this panel (including the mother of Ima cuisine and Masterchef champs!) talk candidly about what food is to them and what it recalls. I think of the love, comfort, fear and shame that surround certain dishes for me, and it makes me curious to know what home smells like to them.
Disclosure: I have the same taste and passion for snacks as the chair Rosabel Tan so I also have a vested interest in the content of this event. —Vanessa Crofskey
America is Not the Heart: Elaine Castillo
Friday 17 May, 1:00pm – 2:00pm
“So you’re poor and you’re a girl but at least you’re light-skinned – that’ll save you.” So reads the first line of Elaine Castillo’s debut novel, America is Not the Heart. In this one line, in the tricky but commanding second-person voice, Castillo establishes a novel that won’t shy away from harsh realities.
The title is a play on Carlos Bulosan’s earlier novel America Is in the Heart, published in 1946, a semi-autobiographical book about the Filipino immigrant experience in America. America is Not the Heart has been a roaring critical success, long-listed for the Aspen Literary Prize 2019, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize 2018 and Elle's Big Book Award 2018. In her review for the New Zealand Listener, Maggie Trapp praised Castillo’s “humour and intimacy” and remarked that her prose is “sly and sharp”.
America is Not the Heart has been on my to-read list for a long while now and Castillo’s upcoming appearance at AWF was the perfect excuse to finally pick it up. I’m only partway through it now so you won’t hear any spoilers from me! But I’m already in awe of the breadth of the novel: geographically it moves between the disparate worlds of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Philippines, where we glimpse a fragmentary back-story; linguistically it spans a dizzying array of languages; and emotionally the terrain is even broader. Castillo is a formidable early-career novelist, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say. —HNW
Anxiety, the Comedy
Saturday 18 May, 7:00pm – 8.15pm
Eammon Marra is a comedian who punches neither up nor down, but inwards. His material is his own mental health and wellbeing, and he delivers it with genuineness and craft. For anyone like me who will normally shy away from going to see young white dude-comedians, he’s definitely one to take a punt on. He’s sweet and relatable, and he’s funny.
Marra’s show will be followed by a chat between fellow contributors to Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety Anthony Byrt and Madeline Reid, plus Ross Murray, author of the Rufus Marigold comics, about their own experiences of anxiety. —HNW
To Life: Alexander Chee
Sunday 19 May, 10:00am – 11:00am
I was always a firm fiction reader until suddenly I wasn’t. It happened during my Master’s year – somehow it felt too disorienting to be switching tones and so I leaned into the real and began consciously reading theory and non-fiction for pleasure. However, I still wanted my bedtime reading to be diverting, not just an extension of my thesis research. And so I turned to what I now recognise as my favourite form: the personal essay.
Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is a gem of the genre. I was sold before I had even picked up the book (after a lengthy period on the Auckland Libraries waitlist), having read ‘The Rosary’, Chee’s voluptuous essay on becoming a rose gardener, in the New Yorker. ‘The Rosary’ remains one of my all-time favourite essays, but it now sits alongside others from the collection – hauntingly beautiful essays reflecting on the AIDS crisis, cater-waiting, tarot reading, a charmed (or is it cursed?) summer spent in Mexico on high school exchange and the untimely death of his father.
Ideally, I’d take a yoga class with Chee, then we’d wash up and go for cocktails. He’d read my cards at the bar and I would drink in his wisdom. Sitting in an audience at the Aotea Centre and listening to him toast life for an hour will have to do. —Lucinda Bennett
Young and Bold
Sunday 19 May, 1:00–1:30pm
Why not hear three of the best young poets and novelists in Aotearoa – for free! Winner of the Best First Book Award for Poetry, Tayi Tibble, poet Sugar Magnolia Wilson and novelist Isa Pearl Ritchie read for ten minutes each alongside international guest Elaine Castillo. It’s a no-brainer. —HNW