Last year, I went to two events run by WORD Christchurch, and I fell in love with Ivan E Coyote.
I first saw them (Ivan goes by the gender-neutral pronoun) at Speaking Proud which I'd attended to see old favourite David Levithan. Ivan read their reply to a letter someone had written them, 'Shouldn't I feel pretty'. It was a powerful, powerful letter and we were both tearing up by the end of it. All Ivan's writing is performed impeccably - for them, writing goes hand in hand with performance - and is simultaneously moving and stunning. The letter was about more than just gender identity, it was about surviving in the world.
At the end of the session, I bought their book Missed Her – a collection of moments, autobiographical stories, things you might read on the blog of a friend. There's a wicked punch of honesty in each of the stories. When I went up to get the book signed, Ivan thanked me for being part of the audience "I saw you listening intently."
Then the Christchurch Art Gallery hosted Hear My Voice, a non-stop hour and a half of spoken word poetry, and Ivan was there, a storyteller among the poets. They read 'literary doritos' – not quite poems or prose, but little anecdotes, some of them deeply upsetting, some so full of hope. There were stories of cruel, cruel words spoken by adults and poignant, brilliant words from kids who haven't learned to hate yet.
"I don't think he is a lady" said a young girl named Rachel, "I think he is a man... but with really pretty eyes."
A year on and I can still hear Ivan's delivery when I read those lines. Their storytelling power is epic, the kind of epic that, if you possibly have a chance, you must hear in person to really believe it.
Luckily for all of us - Ivan is coming back to Christchurch soon, at The Piano on the 16th of May. It's a late-ish session – 8pm – and I'm preparing myself for an intimate, honest, hilarious, heart-aching evening.
And for those who can't make it, I really encourage you to pick up one of their books and read a story. It won't take much time, some of them are only half a page long, but it will be worth it. Or look them up on YouTube (Ivan's done a great TED talk about the use of public bathrooms, and you can also find several performances of their work).
But try and get there if you can; it'll be a night to remember.
Ivan Coyote: Tuesday 16 May 8pm
- More about An evening with Ivan Coyote: Tuesday 16 May 2017
- Find books by Ivan Coyote in our collection
- Read our blog posts about Ivan
- The Spinoff has WORD's programme director Rachael King interviewing Ivan Coyote
- Ivan talks to Kathryn Ryan on RNZ's Nine to Noon
- Read the interview with Ivan by Rachel O'Neill in The Sapling Ivan Coyote: Tomboy Survival Guide and beyond