Writers celebrate city at festival
Perched among volcanoes and squashed between two harbours – Auckland is the dramatic setting for hundreds of novels.
What a shame many of us don’t read them, says writer Stephanie Johnson.
“Auckland is a fantastic city, it’s cosmopolitan, it’s the place where people come to seek their fortune,” she says.
“In all the teaching I do I’m amazed at all the students who don’t read New Zealanders,” she says.
“Americans love to read about themselves, but New Zealanders don’t seem to really want to.”
The sixth-generation Aucklander talks about her home town during a panel discussion on Aucklandness at the Writers and Readers Festival on May 16.
She’s joined by Derek Hansen, whose latest novel Remember Me is set in 1950s Ponsonby, and Paula Morris, whose book Hibiscus Coast ranges from Auckland to Warkworth.
Ms Johnson, also a festival director, has written more than a dozen novels and set several in Auckland.
Her new book Swimmer’s Rope, due out in November, is based in the city between 1908 and 1972.
But she says it’s hard for writers keen to publish ovseas to base their work here.
“It’s very hard to get books published overseas that are set in New Zealand,” she says.
“Some New Zealand writers won’t set their books in New Zealand any more.”
But she hopes the tide is turning for local writing, with the success of books like Lloyd Jones’ Booker Prizenominated Mister Pip.
And a new generation of younger writers aren’t as reticent in talking themselves up, she says.
Ms Johnson was once told off by a publisher for telling a journalist her new book was probably a “load of crap”.
“We were brought up that way, but I think the next generation don’t seem to be as self-effacing as we were.”
West Auckland poet Paula Green will host the Aucklandness session at the festival.
She says the city is “hugely important” to her writing.
“I live on the fringe of the city on the west coast so that kind of sets me up for the right state for writing,” she says.
“There is an Auckland that’s presented south of the Bombays sometimes that’s quite cliched and stereotyped, but writing brings up so many different Aucklands.
“You can’t simply view Auckland in terms of glass buildings or wealth because there is so much more, and that’s what I love about living here.
“And I think we’ve got many writers who reflect that diversity.”
The Auckland Writers and Readers Festival is held from May 14 to 18 at the Aotea Centre.
International guests include Booker Prize winners Anne Enright and JM Coetzee. Poet laureate Michelle Leggott and Auckland writers Tessa Duder and Witi Ihimaera are among New Zealanders featured.
For details and tickets, see www.writersfestival.co.nz.
Proud Aucklander: Writer Stephanie Johnson celebrates her Aucklandness at the Writers and Readers Festival next month.