New team puts fresh spin on WORD programme
WORD 2023 writers 1
WORD 2023 writers 2

New team puts fresh spin on WORD programme

For Kiran Dass, programme lead for WORD Christchurch 2023, the future is bright for writing and publishing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Kiran is part of a new team behind Ōtautahi’s premier literary festival, which features over 130 writers, thinkers, poets and performers and over 80 events from 23 – 27 August. Venues include The Piano, Tūranga, The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, and Little Andromeda.

Kiran sees the literary talent in Aotearoa going from strength to strength. Small, independent publishing houses are on the rise, and the bigger publishers are catching on to fresh and exciting voices that tap into the things New Zealanders care about. The voices and stories being championed and published are also increasingly diverse.

Capturing all that in the WORD Christchurch programme has been a steep learning curve for the new crew. The result is a programme that strikes a balance between tried-and-true gems and fresh and dynamic special events, bringing in different community voices and interest areas. 

Kiran has worked alongside guest programmers-at-large Catarina de Peters Leitão, Melanie Dixon and Audrey Baldwin to elevate Māori writers and storytellers, as well as creatives across the country.

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Katherine Mansfield’s death, Kiran acknowledges that Mansfield’s quote ‘Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on Earth for you! Act for yourself. Face the truth!’ informed some programming decisions.

“The idea of ‘risk’ provides so many opportunities to reflect on and speak to while opening up many themes,” she says. “Whether it is introducing audiences to new writers, performers and thinkers that they may not have heard of or illuminating new, possibly challenging, ideas.”

RISK! The WORD Gala brings together featured international guests with poet Tusiata Avia to discuss moments when they have taken a risk and lived to tell the tale. 

Regarded as one of the most thrilling new Caribbean voices, Kevin Jared Hosein’s novel Hungry Ghosts explores the impact of colonisation on his home, Trinidad and Tobago.

British writer Gabriel Krauze made waves with his autobiographical novel Who They Was, long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize, which tells the story of a young man who straddles two worlds: studying English literature at university yet remaining embedded in a London underworld of gangs, drugs and violent crime.

Fellow Brit, writer and translator Polly Barton’s work includes translations of contemporary women’s fiction by Japanese writers, a memoir about her encounters with the Japanese language and an oral history of pornography based on 19 interviews with people across ages, genders and sexualities.

Australian-based New Zealand-born writer Meg Mason is in conservation with Noelle McCarthy, talking about her book Sorrow and Bliss, which was shortlisted for last year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

In-depth musical knowledge combined with nostalgia for small-town life powered Scottish writer David Keenan’s debut novel This is Memorial Device and is shot through his subsequent works. Keenan will speak about how music informs his writing, and also appears alongside cult local musician Bruce Russell for a reading accompanied by improvised music.

“One of the things that I am most excited about is having our international guests in sessions with local thinkers, writers and performers and hearing the conversations and discussions which result,” Kiran says.

2023 is a blockbuster year for Aotearoa publishing. Acclaimed New Zealand contributors include Emily Perkins, Pip Adam, Catherine Chidgey, Fiona Farrell and Carl Nixon, who have all published new novels this year, as well as emerging talents such as Josie Shapiro, Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe), Khadro Mohamed and Airana Ngarewa (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāruahine).

Chinese-New Zealand playwright Nathan Joe brings his sell-out show Dirty Passports to his home town, with some of the finest local indigenous and minority storytellers and spoken-word artists joining forces with Kevin Jared Hosein to shatter stereotypes as they riff on themes of decolonisation, queerness and feminism.

Poet and performance powerhouse Tusiata Avia joins John Campbell to discuss her provocative award-winning poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book, while WORD also commemorates Witi Ihimaera’s contribution to local literature. It is 50 years since the release of his debut novel, Tangi , the first to be published by a Māori author. He will be in conversation about his lengthy career and most recent work co-editing anthologies of Māori writing.

Southbridge born and raised All Black legend Dan Carter launches new book The Art of Winning to his home crowd as a WORD curtain-raiser on 22 August, converting sporting lessons into life lessons for all. 

While the core of WORD is renowned authors discussing their work, showcases of poetry and song, expert panels debating local and global issues, there are also more novel events. These include Fungi: A Curious Hikoi with Liv Sisson, whose book Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide is revealing new and magical tales about the role of fungi in the world. Sisson will lead a walking tour along the Avon/Ōtākaro River to discover what food can be foraged from its banks.

In Cabinet of Curiosities, Emily Perkins, Gabriel Krauze, Andrew Paul Wood, Melody Thomas and Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu) reveal their “weird and wonderful deep obsessions” while The Lost Art of Letter Writing is a chance to send and receive letters that will be delivered by WORD posties across various festival sites.

Librarians from Tūranga, Christchurch’s main public library, go up against AI to gauge whether their combined years of wisdom and experience wins when it comes to devising personalised reading lists. AI vs Librarians could well influence the future of reading.

Recognising that many WORD visitors are also creators, there is a stimulating lineup of masterclasses and workshops designed to provide new inspiration and skills. This year’s schedule includes investigative journalist Bryon C. Clark on investigative research; Melody Thomas, host of Stuff’s new series The Good Sex Project, on podcasting; Catherine Chidgey on “unusual narrators”; and Pip Adam on whether elements of and the structures of jokes can be used in fiction.

Youth and school events designed to foster a love of reading and writing round out the programme. These include the Ōtautahi Zinefest and award-winning young flash fiction writers Hannah Daniell and Chloe Morrison-Clarke in 100 Words to Save the Universe, sharing ideas for writing cracking short, short fiction.

WORD 2023 opens with Tīmataka, an evening of poignant and uplifting storytelling, poetry and waiata presented by Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa), Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) and Ariana Tikao (Kāi Tahu).



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