Record-breaking attendance signals a new era for Auckland Writers Festival Waituhi o Tāmaki

May 20, 2024


The Auckland Writers Festival Waituhi o Tāmaki has broken all attendance records, ushering in a bold and exciting new era for the Southern Hemisphere’s largest literary festival.

Held at Auckland’s Aotea Centre from 14 – 19 May, attendance reached a record high of more than 85,000. The programme was designed to bring the bookshop to life, flinging open the doors to all and dazzling with 167 events featuring 240 talented participants from around Aotearoa and the world.

The pop-up bookstalls, run by The Women’s Bookshop, reported their biggest year for book sales in the Festival’s history. Close to 11,000 books were snapped up, almost 50% more than the year prior, with Lioness by Ockham New Zealand Book Award winner Emily Perkins proving to be the most popular title.

A stellar gala night on Thursday 16 May set the tone for an extraordinary three further days, with 25 events selling out completely, including a number in the 2,200 seat Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, and many others at near capacity.

Readers were enchanted by a diverse selection of names with international and local stars woven together to create new connections and explore common themes. National treasure Sam Neill, Booker Prize winner Paul Lynch, bestselling debut novelist Bonnie Garmus, award-winning writer Catherine Chidgey, former poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh and beloved literary star Ann Patchett were just a few of the names sharing the marquee billing.

The Festival is committed to ensuring there is something for everyone and over 25% of the programme was completely free and unticketed. Free events included a packed session on te Tiriti, an extraordinary exploration of the life of 2024 Honoured Writer Anne Salmond and a hugely popular deep dive into speculative fiction.

Lively debates and in-depth discussions on topical issues drew huge crowds that covered the rise of book banning, voting rights, democracy and climate change, and featured a range of writers including Emma Wehipeihana (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) Shashi Tharoor, Toby Manhire, Peter Frankopan and Anna Fifield.

“We’re going to be processing those six days for about six months…. A phenomenal thank you to everyone who lent their stories, support and energy to make it happen and for filling our city with a celebration of writing. What an explosion of creativity, kindness and bookish magic it was,” said Festival co-directors Lyndsey Fineran and Catriona Ferguson.

It was the first year at the helm for Artistic Director Lyndsey Fineran, who joined the team in August 2023 after a successful tenure at the UK’s Cheltenham Literature Festival. Lyndsey quickly hit the ground running and pulled off a remarkable feat of programming magic. While Catriona Ferguson was a welcome addition to the team in January 2024, when she came on board as Managing Director.

Lyndsey was joined by three guest curators. Michael and Matariki Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) whose innovative programming celebrated storytelling in all its forms, while Professor Damon Salesa brought a strong Pacific-focus to his line-up.

Feedback from attendees overwhelmingly spoke to the buzzy atmosphere and warmth, which spilled from the venue and out into the city, showcasing Tāmaki Makaurau’s vibrant energy to local and international guests.  The heavily attended STREETSIDE: BRITOMART programme on Friday night included a Book (Fight) Club and an Art Chemist, while Food Trucks brought a festive mood to Aotea Square.

Free events for families took over Level 5 of the Aotea Centre as Pukapuka Adventures was unleashed on Saturday and Sunday in a curated series of events designed to engage the youngest of book lovers with the written word through story, song, dance, art and play.

In the days prior to the Festival almost 6,000 school children received inspiration and advice from talented writers and illustrators and were treated to three days of events that attracted students from as far afield as Kerikeri and Matamata.

Festival Chair Leigh Melville said she was heartened by the large number of people of all ages who attended.

“The Festival is an undoubted highlight of the year for readers and writers; thank you to everyone who attended and our amazing festival team, including our legion of volunteers, who helped make this year’s event such a huge success.”

  • ENDS –

Auckland Writers Festival Waituhi o Tāmaki acknowledges the support of our valued Patrons. The Festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors and partners:

Gold: Barfoot & Thompson; Creative NZ; Freemasons Foundation; Ockham Residential; Tātaki Auckland Unlimited.

Silver: Craigs Investment Partners; Foundation North; Hawkins & Co; Potter Masonic Trust; Royal Society Te Apārangi & the Marsden Fund; University of Auckland, Faculty of Arts.

Bronze: ANZ, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki; Bateman Books; Britomart Group; British Council; Friends of the Turnbull Library; Heart of the City; HUIA Publishers; Penguin Random House NZ; Te Herenga Waka University Press.

Major Partners include Auckland Council; Auckland Live; Australian High Commission; Culture Ireland; Latin America Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence; National Arts Council, Singapore; Nielsen Book Data; Satellites; Scottish Books International; Sensory Sam; SHIFT; Sing Lit Station; Stout Trust; Twisted Citrus.


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