People of all ages flocked to the 2019 Auckland Writers Festival this week, which broke its previous attendance record with more than 82,000 seats filled across seven days of tremendous conversations, inspiring performances and theatres filled with laughter at venues throughout the city’s centre.
The Festival, which has seen year-on-year growth in the last eight years, hosted 230 of New Zealand’s and the world’s best novelists, playwrights, song writers, historians, children’s writers, illustrators, journalists and poets who took to the streets, filled the halls and entertained in the sparkling Festival tent, bringing extraordinary new ideas, and words to the many thousands who came to see them.
Auckland Writers Festival director Anne O’Brien says it is an absolute thrill that the Festival is now considered to be one of the best of its kind in the world.
“There is huge appetite for substantive conversations and a deeper understanding of the world and each other. We are incredibly grateful to all of our guests, many of whom have travelled across the world to share stories and ideas relevant to today’s concerns.
“We farewell these remarkable writers but are left inspired by their stories, and with a deeper understanding of the role we, as individuals, can play in the world.”
The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received a standing ovation in a sold out session full of laughter and substance. Economist Kate Raworth’s passion that a new, sustainable economic model is possible inspired all who came to hear her. David Chariandy, Leonie Hayden, Victor Rodger, Jenny Erpenbeck and Nida Fiazi shared personal experiences of discrimination which sobered the audience in the University of Auckland Festival Forum: Everyday Acts of Racism. Musician and memoirist Jeff Tweedy’s honesty and skilful use of the comedic pause drew rapturous applause. Vincent O’Malley challenged us with an impassioned call for the New Zealand Wars to be taught in schools. We were honoured that kaumatua Sir Tīmoti Kāretu appeared in the Festival’s first-ever session conducted in te reo Māori. We were treated to Eugenia Cheng’s musical and mathematical brilliance. Ninety performers from Auckland’s National Youth Theatre Company joined Val Emmich in a beautiful session that brought many audience members to tears, as did Anne Michael’s moving session that started Friday’s programme. Military historian Sir Antony Beevor brought the impact of war so vividly to life to a packed theatre. Jill Abramson was open and self-effacing as she provided insight into the media, paywalls and revealed the lead-up to her firing as the executive editor of the New York Times. Markus Zusak’s empathy for his characters and skilful audience engagement was a highlight for many. Rebecca Vaughan’s sold out Orlando season left her audience astonished, confirming her place as one of the world’s great solo literary actresses. Beloved children’s and adult fiction writer Joy Cowley ended the session with a compassionate and heartfelt session that saw her receive a standing ovation.
Hundreds of people converged upon Literally Lorne for an eclectic variety of short, sharp events that were by parts funny, moving and zany. The Auckland Town Hall was given over to the kids at Family Day on Sunday, and they were treated to performances of the wild and wacky variety including an oversized book of Margaret Mahy’s The Lion in the Meadow read by Stacey Morrison in te reo Māori and English.
More than 7,500 students and teachers, from all over the North Island filled the Aotea Centre for inspiring sessions with writers from Britain, US, Australia and New Zealand.
The cream of this country’s writers received honours at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards –a marquee event in the Festival’s public programme – amongst them Dame Fiona Kidman who was presented with the $53,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize.
This year’s Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, judged by American award-winning poet, novelist and essayist Anne Michaels, went to Jessica Le Bas and the inaugural $10,000 Michael Gifkins Prize went to Tom McLean writing as Tom Remiger.
Auckland Writers Festival Board Chair, Pip Muir, says it is a real privilege to be part of an organisation that demonstrates such commitment to the power of words and ideas.
“I sincerely thank the Festival staff for their hard work and tenacity delivering this truly world-class event, and to the sponsors and patrons for their generosity and loyal support.
“This Festival has been an outstanding success. It will be a hard act to follow, setting us a great challenge for the Festival’s 20th event next year.” says Ms Muir.
The Auckland Writers Festival warmly thanks Platinum Partner: Heartland Bank; Gold Partners: The University of Auckland, Freemasons Foundation, Ockham Residential and Creative New Zealand; Silver Partners: ATEED, Barfoot & Thompson, Craigs Investment Partners, Foundation North, Hobson Leavy Executive Search, Newstalk ZB, The New Zealand Herald, The University of Auckland Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences; Bronze Partners: Hachette, HarperCollins, Hawkins & Co, Heart of the City, NZ Community Trust, Penguin Random House, QMS, The Lion Foundation, Victoria University Press and Supporting Partners.
We are also enormously grateful to our Festival patrons for their enthusiasm and generosity.