New chap­ter for writ­ers fes­ti­val

Central Leader - - News - By Jo­ce­lyn Rein

When the go­ing gets tough, the tough get read­ing. And it seems they get buy­ing tick­ets to the coun­try’s big­gest lit­er­ary event too.

Ticket sales for the Auck­land Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val, which starts to­day, are up 40 per­cent from last year, says di­rec­tor Jill Rawns­ley.

“Peo­ple are just be­ing quite se­lec­tive about what they want to do. And this is not an ex­pen­sive event.”

It’s the event’s 10th an­niver­sary this year and also the last year in the job for Ms Rawns­ley, who has been di­rect­ing the fes­ti­val for the past six years.

She says she couldn’t have cho­sen a bet­ter year to see off the job, with an im­pres­sive lineup of in­ter­na­tional writ­ers arriving in Auck­land to­day.

She’s watched it grow from its hum­ble be­gin­nings in 1999.

“It’s been an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We’ve built some­thing from the ground up re­ally.”

A self-pro­claimed book lover, Ms Rawns­ley first be­came in­volved in the fes­ti­val as a vol­un­teer and en­joyed the role so much she made it per­ma­nent.

She says it was a “very, very hard de­ci­sion” to leave but she wanted to go out on a high note.

“We’ve achieved fan­tas­tic things and I know it’s in good hands.”

It’s a great year for peo­ple to at­tend who want to get a feel for what the fes­ti­val is about – with more than 130 fic­tion and non-fic­tion writ­ers, jour­nal­ists and poets at­tend­ing, she says.

And it’s not all high­brow, in­tel­lec­tual dron­ing.

“A lot of peo­ple think it’s like a lec­ture or an exam and that you have to have read the book first. That’s just com­plete rub­bish. You can come along and be as in­volved as you want.”

The four-day event in­cludes more than 50 events, 11 of them free, such as au­thor talks and panel dis­cus­sions.

High­lights in­clude Aus­tralian au­thor of Ran­som, David Malouf, Nige­rian writer Chima- manda Ngozi Adichie and Amer­i­can per­for­mance poet Sonya Re­nee and three jour­nal­ists from the New Yorker as well as many award­win­ning lo­cal writ­ers.

A first for this year’s event will be the in­clu­sion of the Schools Pro­gramme, some­thing Ms Rawns­ley says has proven hugely pop­u­lar al­ready, with more than 6000 book­ings.

In­ter­me­di­ate and secondary school stu­dents will at­tend talks to­day and to­mor­row from lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional au­thors, hand­picked from the main fes­ti­val pro­gramme.

She says the pro­gramme aims to give kids an idea of what they can do with their writ­ing skills. She hopes the stu­dents, many of whom stop read­ing in their teenage years, will glean in­spi­ra­tion from see­ing the au­thors up close and per­sonal.

“I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant they see writ­ers talk­ing about their craft. It brings a bit of live­li­ness and en­ergy.”

The fes­ti­val runs un­til Sun­day, visit www. writ­ers­fes­ti­val.co.nz.

Photo: JA­SON OX­EN­HAM

Well read: Jill Rawns­ley will be man­ning the helm of this year’s Auck­land Writ­ers and Read­ers Fes­ti­val for one last time.

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