The 2020 Auckland Writers Festival, Waituhi o Tāmaki, programme has been revealed, and this year's line-up for what is one of the most respected literary showcases on the planet is as super-charged, high-powered, diverse and thought-provoking as ever.
The 20th event delivers six sensational days of talks, panel discussions, readings and events by writers, scientists, economists, poets, journalists and intellectuals to Tāmaki Makaurau. Taking place in the Aotea Centre and other Auckland venues from 12 to 17 May, Auckland Writers Festival explores the environment, gender politics, conformity, religious faith, international diplomacy, mental health, penal reform, indigenous rights, terrorism, and technology, among a number of other pressing and pertinent issues of our time.
41 international literary luminaries sit alongside 222 New Zealand writers, thinkers, facilitators and panelists in the 2020 programme. While the full programme is on writersfestival.co.nz, a shortlist of the full line-up is outlined below.
Former Irish president and climate justice champion Mary Robinson; Pulitzer winner and former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power; East West Street’s Philippe Sands QC; UAE Assistant Minister Omar Saif Ghobash; counter-terrorism consultant Julia Ebner; ex-White House Nudge co- author Cass Sunstein; Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani; Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong (via SKYPE); New Zealand-born Beijing correspondent Anna Fifield; and Once Were Warriors’ Alan Duff are among the 2020 heavyweights.
There are major prize winners: Girl, Woman Other (2019) author Bernardine Evaristo and New Zealand’s Eleanor Catton (Booker); via Skype Ann Patchett of Bel Canto fame(Orange, PEN/Faulkner); Colson Whitehead (Pulitzer); Elizabeth Knox (Montana); Leanne Shapton (Critics Circle); Patrick Gale (Emmy); Nathan Filer (Costa); and Helon Habila (Caine).
Powerful female voices include deafblind lawyer Haben Girma; Emily Doe AKA Chanel Miller, the writer and artist who entered the public arena as the woman who was sexually assaulted at a Stanford University party; Three Women’s Lisa Taddeo; Big Little Lies’ Liane Moriarty, Moriarty’s Australian compatriot, Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch; and Chinese debut novelist An Yu.
Writerly heft comes from New Yorkers Deborah Eisenberg and Wallace Shawn; poet laureates Simon Armitage, Jenny Bornholdt and Selina Tusitala Marsh; this year’s Honoured Writer Brian Turner; mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist, conservationist, explorer and public scientist Tim Flannery; veteran travel writer and one of the 50 greatest post-war British writers Colin Thubron; Moana Jackson on decolonisation; as well as NZ’s Barbara Ewing, Alan Bollard, Rebecca Priestley, and Naomi Arnold.
In the ethereal realm, journalist Peter Stanford talks angels and faith; Lucy Inglis charts the history of opium; and Casketeers Francis and Kaiora Tipene chat about undertaking.
Haare Williams speaks te reo Māori; Hēmi Kelly will teach a Māori phrase a day, and New Zealand novelist and essayist Tina Makereti has programmed four compelling sessions with writers including Hinemoana Baker, Renee, Essa May Ranapiri, Nic Low and two-spirit first nations writer Joshua Whitehead.
Food writer Yasmin Khan will serve Palestinian flavours at a special event at Ima Cuisine, landscape designer Suzanne Turley willshowcase NZ gardens and Cliff Kuang willdiscuss user-friendly design.
Hybrid performance, arts and literature lovers are also catered for. On the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth Anne Kennedy and NZTrio’s Sarah Watkins bring Beethoven and contemporary poetry to life in an event in which the page meets the piano; contemporary dancer, poet and novelist Tishani Doshi will deliver a stunning dance and spoken word performance; Nina Simone is remembered in a theatre performance, Black Is the Color Of My Voice, by Apphia Campbell; and improv’s Covert Theatre sends up book clubs.
The family, young adult and schools heroes include Wonky Donkey’s Craig Smith, Leigh Bardugo, Courtney Sina Meredith, Alice Oseman, Sally Rippon, Matt Stanton and Kwame Alexander.
Documentary screenings, poetry, perfume, music, mash ups, tattoos, queer objects, protests, ghosts, typewriters, songs and eye charts round off the massive week of all-things-bookish.
Festival Director Anne O’Brien says the 20th event is as striking in its power as it is vast.
“Writers, novelists and poets have always offered new ways of seeing the world, and the many issues humans face at any time. At the same time, they remind us of the beauty of our surroundings and connections. Writers festivals bring all of it together, offering audiences a chance to flex their brain muscles and discuss things that really matter.
“Standing out for me in our 20th event is the presence of literary superstardom, both from across Aotearoa and the world. It’s the line-up of formidable women; the gritty subject matter; and the hundreds of awards, accolades and nominations the writers have collectively gathered.
“What I perhaps love the most, though, is how, every year, Aucklanders and visitors to the city immerse themselves in literature with such insatiable appetite for our week-long degustation. It’s what writers festivals are all about and our 20th is a birthday party no one will want to miss,” O’Brien says.
The famous Festival Gala Night takes place on Thursday 14 May in the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre. The Gala, supported by Craigs Investment Partners, heralds the beginning of three full days of events, workshops and talks. It sees eight intrepid writers take the stage, in turn, to tell a seven-minute, unscripted true story, prompted by this year’s phrase: ‘Heat of the Moment’. This year, Gala attendees will journey with Simon Armitage, Bernardine Evaristo, Barbara Ewing, Hemi Kelly, Chanel Miller, Ann Patchett, Wallace Shawn and Peter Sipeli.
To close the 2020 Festival, media personality John Campbell will join this year’s honoured writer Brian Turner, on stage, for a free, celebratory session of Turner’s life and work.The inaugural Auckland Writers Festival was held in 1999. Founded by award-winning Kiwi novelist, poet and playwright Stephanie Johnson and the late filmmaker and historian Peter Wells, it delivered a modest programme of 40 events to around 5,200 people. With audiences exceeding 83,000 in 2019, and a whopping 230 events in 2020, the Auckland Writers Festival has grown to become the biggest and most-attended writers festival in New Zealand.
Public tickets are on sale from 9am Friday 13 March via Ticketmaster: online or 0800 111 999.