My experience at the Auckland Writers Festival 2023

One of our passionate librarians travelled up to Auckland to attend the Auckland Writer's Festival (AWF) and she came back inspired and a bit sad that the event was over so fast. Read about her experience below.

It's hard to grasp that in just over two days, I had the privilege of being present in the same room as some of the world's best thinkers. Three Booker Prize winners, a double-Pulitzer Prize winner, a gold Olympic and world champion, an OBE recipient, a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree, the NZ Poet Laureate, best-selling authors, esteemed writers, poets, creators, artists, scientists, and a lot more—it's truly mind-blowing! Like woah, goosebumps.

The AWF23 committee did an excellent job with its program this year. They had 160 in-person events over six days, with more than 25 international literary giants sitting alongside 200 New Zealand writers, thinkers, and panelists. There were so many talks and workshops happening simultaneously that there were moments when it was just impossible for me to decide which one to attend. In the end, I managed to participate in eight sessions over the course of two full days.

I flew out on Friday morning and attended the following events on that day:

  • ADD OIL – Eda Tang, Alice Canton, Saraid de Silva, Brannavan Gnanalingam, Nathan Joe curated by Chris Tse (NZ’s poet laureate).
  • FREEDOM IS IN THE FINANCES – Simran Kaur, Frances Cook , Te Kahukura Boynton with Natalie Samy.
  • STREETSIDE – Ruth Bayley, Alie Benge, Janet Charman, Catherine Chidgey, Joanna Cho, Dr Gráinne Cleary, Elizabeth Cox, Bri DiMattina, Nadia Freeman, Charmaine Papertalk Green, Herschel Herscher, Claudia Jardine, Nathan Joe, Simone Kaho, Jessica Howland Kany, Sarah Laing, Anthony Lapwood, Wilma Giordano Laryn, Daniel Lavery, Linn Lorkin, Jazz Money, Paul Moon, Airana Ngarewa, James Norcliffe, Te Kapua O’Connor, Emily Parr, Paddy Richardson, Ant Sang, Christina Sanders, Ruby Solly, Murdoch Stephens, Anne Tiernan, Rushi Vyas, Simon Wilson.

And these on Saturday:

I find myself recalling special moments from the weekend, such as queuing for Ruby Tui's signature. The line was so massive that it extended up to the second floor! Her publicist was strict about running the book signing for only an hour. I found myself the fourth-to-last person in line, so I didn't think I'd make it. It did not help that a group of ladies behind me kept on saying, "the future seems bleak." In the end, I thought it was actually better that I had been one of the last few in line because the scene had become much more relaxed. It was so relaxed that I had the chance to actually talk to her instead of just getting a signature, photo, and moving on. She even asked me if she could write me a note after our interaction. Since I traveled light and didn't bring a copy with me, nor did I want to buy a copy because I make use of the library, I asked her to sign my iPad!

Another special moment was when I mustered the courage to ask Colson Whitehead a question in a big hall full of people. First, I told him that I run a secondhand bookshop and have always been proud whenever I get to sell his books. Then, I proceeded to ask him about discrimination and handling emotions that may be provoked by writing about it. I asked how he navigates those feelings without affecting his interactions with the outside world or compromising his mental wellbeing. Later, when I was meeting him for his signature (and again, I was the second-to-last person in the queue), he kindly thanked me for my question and asked about my bookshop.

There were so many more incredible moments. If you get the chance, I recommend watching/listening to Bernardine Evaristo's session once they've uploaded the videos on their website. She challenged us as an audience to think critically and embrace diversity. Her work sparks important conversations and encourages readers to reflect on societal structures and biases. Another session worth watching is the hilarious Shehan Karunatilaka's. He persists with the claim that his Booker Prize-winning book, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, is detective fiction as opposed to horror fiction— due to “no other reliable investigation mechanism”. Surprising right!