Under the radar at Auckland Writers Festival 2023

Under the radar at Auckland Writers Festival 2023

Be it a music festival, film festival or wine and food, the seasoned punter will be very familiar with discovering a hidden gem among the big hitters on the programme.

So it is with this year’s Auckland Writers Festival. In 160 live events over six days, starting on 16 May, more than 25 international literary luminaries sit alongside 200 New Zealand writers, thinkers and panellists. 

The big hitters include double Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead, three Booker Prize winners – Eleanor Catton, Bernardine Evaristo and the latest winner, Shehan Karunatilaka – and current TS Eliot prize-winner and acclaimed London-based musician Anthony Joseph.

And of course there’s also a couple of gems that might evade your radar on a cursory scan through the programme.    

One of these is Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, author of 12 books of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese and English. Her latest novel, Dust Child, highlights the struggles of Amerasians – children born from war-time relationships between American soldiers and Vietnamese women – and the discrimination and ill treatment they experience. 

Another is art critic and reviewer Charles Darwent, who will hold a masterclass on art criticism and, in a separate session, discuss his book Surrealists in New York, which explores the creative collision in post-war New York of Parisian artists who fled the Nazis and the brash young painters of the American avant-garde.

Find it hard to do nothing in these always-on times? In her New York Times bestseller How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell confronted the ceaseless demands on our time and focus. Her latest book, Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, takes a deep dive into the fundamental structure of our society and finds that the clock we live by is built for profit, not people.

This year’s festival marks the first time in over three years that international authors will return in an all-live programme on-stage in central Auckland. The week-long celebration of books, authors and ideas will include ticketed and free events in the Aotea Centre and select venues across the city.

Festival-goers will hear from outstanding fiction and non-fiction authors, musicians, scientists, artists, historians, innovators, and food and art critics from New Zealand and around the world. They’ll experience exclusive insights and debate on significant global issues – from climate change to gender identity, wild food foraging, Indigenous perspectives, the downsides of social media, breaking female sport stereotypes, and whether writers can be replaced by chatbots.

For the first time in the festival’s history, indigenous writers from Canada, Australia and Aotearoa will join in a meaningful exchange about storytelling, language and experiences in the First Nations series.

Four guest Curators, Matariki Bennett and Michael Bennett (Māori), Dahlia Malaeulu (Pasifika), and Chris Tse (Asia), have programmed highly creative voices and culturally rich sessions exploring everything from composing a waiata to ‘yellow peril’ racism and storytelling through tapa.

As part of the main lineup, the festival’s chief executive, Kathleen Drumm, has programmed a series of events for foodies, including British culinary legend and Restaurant Critic for The Telegraph, William Sitwell, who headlines an array of leading local and international food writers.

The inaugural Auckland Writers Festival was held in 1999. Founded by Kiwi novelist, poet and playwright Stephanie Johnson and the late filmmaker and historian Peter Wells, it delivered a programme of 40 events to 5200 people. The festival has grown to become one of the best attended literary festivals per capita in the world.  

Auckland Writers Festival,
Tue 16 – Sun 21 May 2023.

Top row, left to right: Anthony Joseph, Bill Hayes, Colson Whitehead, Eleanor Catton, Gabrielle Zevin.

Second row, left to right: Dr Quế Mai Nguyễn Phan, William Sitwell, Charles Darwent, Bernadine Evaristo, Jenny Odell.


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