WORD Christchurch: Moata’s picks of the 2021 festival

WORD Christchurch's 2021 festival has been postponed until later in the year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Dates and times mentioned in this post are no longer current.

If you missed the big news earlier this year that Christchurch's formerly biennial literary festival is now giving us a full festival every year then the content of this post might come as something of a surprise. For herein do I make my picks of this year's festival which will fill our city's venues with the wordy and the worthy from 25 to 29 August.

While this is good news for lovers of writing, ideas, and storytelling it is terrible news for me as I am forced to choose (CHOOSE) from the overabundance of awesome in this year's festival programme. Fiction lovers will be happy. Anyone with an interest in Ngāi Tahi culture and history has multiple options. Poetry is well represented. There's stuff for kids.

If I could go to everything I probably would but as it is I only have the time, attention, and constitution to enjoy a sampling of what's on offer. So here's what I'll choose to focus said time, attention and constitution on.

Magazine in Residence

Throughout the festival, noon to 4pm

New Zealand's literary magazine, Takahē, will be at the festival and accepting submissions for a very special festival zine. Now, I love a zine, but one that's part of my fave literary festival, which will be handprinted on site at Tūranga, and which I could potentially contribute to? SIGN ME UP. This whole thing delights me and I absolutely will need to get my grubby hands on a copy of this treasure.

Te Piki o Tāwhaki - The Ascent of Tāwhaki

Thursday, 26 August: 6.30 to 7pm or 8 to 8.30pm

Anyone who's been to Tūranga will have noticed the sculpture that stands prominently on the stairway between the ground and first floors, but what they might not realise is that this is a depiction of Tāwhaki, who is famous in Māori lore for travelling to the heavens (think about that the next time you cruise past him on the stairs). His story is referenced by several artworks in Tūranga.

In a special 30 minute performance the staircase will be transformed as Tāwhaki's story is brought to life. The staircase will be the stage with audiences viewing if from around the balconies on all sides. Presented by master storyteller Joseph Hullen (Ngāi Tūāhuriri / Ngāti Hinematua), taonga puoro virtuoso Ariana Tikao (Ngāi Tahu) and Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāi Tukairangi), this is your chance to hear a uniquely Murihiku Ngāi Tahu telling of a story that is well over a thousand years old. 

This is a stunning combination of talent in a thoroughly unique location. Definitely a "not to be missed" event.

Three minutes of fame

Friday, 27 August 4 to 5pm

Read your work on stage at the James Hay Theatre... but without an audience. This is either brilliant or bizarre and I can't decide which. The show-off in me loves it, and the shy person in me is also sort of cautiously interested (which I suppose is the idea). It does seem like the perfect way to get over stage fright by getting rid of the audience whilst having the safety net of a pre-recorded applause track. I just sort of love it as an idea - giving people space to be part of the festival in a really interesting way. But also noone will be watching so if it's rubbish there'll be no way of telling! 

Cut to the bone

Saturday, 28 August 10 to 11am

Definitely a great session for fans of short fiction. Tracey Slaughter's 2016 short story collection, Deleted Scenes for Lovers, knocked me around in a most uncouth (but amazing) way and her latest collection Devil's Trumpet is on my "to-read" list (along with Airini Beautrais's award winning, Bug Week). Both authors will talk with Erin Harrington about their books and how it is that they cut to the bone so effectively in their writing. Oh, and also it's FREE, so that's nice.

Also, don't those covers look great together? Flora and fauna in the pink!

Catalogue record for Devil's trumpetCatalogue record for Bug week

Megan Dunn: Things I Learned at Art School

Saturday, 28 August 11.30am to 12.30pm

Megan Dunn's first book Tinderbox was one of my favourite reads that year and I have enjoyed her previous WORD outings. As soon as I saw she had a new memoir-essay book out I put a hold on it. Dunn has a great grasp of things popular culture and a wry sense of humour. Whether I've managed to read Things I Learned in Art School before WORD Christchurch rolls around this time or not I anticipate this session being a wickedly good time. This is another free session. Bravo!

The Faraway Near - Hari Kunzru

Saturday, 28 August 12.30 to 1.30pm

You may have heard already about The Faraway Near as it's been the subject of a crowdfunding campaign but if not here's the basic premise: International writers beam in to the venue which is arranged like a pop-up bar with an audience all seated at tables. Said writers appear in life-size on a screen at each table and are interviewed, and there'll be an opportunity for audience members to ask questions. 

There are multiple Faraway Near sessions to choose from (authors include Tommy Orange, A. C. Grayling, Mark O'Connell and more) but Hari Kunzru is my pick because in recent years his novels White tears, and Red pill have spooked me and left me thinking quite hard about the world we live in and how it got this way. Red pill falls down the alt-right rabbithole and is so compelling because it's only the slimmest hair away from reality. If you like a bit of biting contemporary fiction with a haunted main protagonist then Kunzru is your fella.

Catalogue record for Red pill

Rick Gekoski - Rare Books and Rare People

Saturday, 28 August 4 to 5pm

I was lucky enough to hear Rick Gekoski, writer and rare book dealer, at a WORD event earlier this year and he was a delight. The word "raconteur" seems to have been invented just for him. He is the kind of person who can start a story with a throwaway line like "...I was in Antibes with Graham Greene..." and quite unbelieveably, the fact that he's in a sophisticated European locale with one of the most feted writers of his generation is the least interesting part of the story - it genuinely just gets orders of degrees better from there.

A Rick Gekoski session is not an experience that can be accurately captured by anyone less charismatic and urbane than Mr Gekoski himself so I will just say "buy a ticket", and be done with it. 

The Next Generation

Saturday, 28 August 4 to 5.15pm

Who are the next generation of Māori writers? Signs are strong that Ruby Solly, Hana Pera Aoake and Rebecca K. Reilly will be in the mix.

Catalogue record for A bathful of kawakawaCatalogue record for Tōku PāpāCatalogue record for Greta and Valdin

I'm reading Reilly's debut novel, Greta and Valdin at the moment and have been slowly but inexorably falling in love with it. Ruby Solly moved me to tears at the Auckland Writers Festival with one of her poems. Aoake's A Bathful of Kawakawa and Hot Water is on my "to-read" list. With Juanita Hepi managing the kōrero I anticipate this being a decolonising good time. It's also free, as all decolonising good times should be.

Funnier and Weirder

Saturday, 28 August 6 to 7pm

Humorous readings by humorous writers in a cafe that serves delicious things. If there were a bouncy castle this would probably be my dream. The weird and the funny to be ably represented by Sharon Lam, Murdoch Stephens, Rebecca K. Reilly, Nathan Joe and Megan Dunn. With funny and welcoming Billy T finalist Ray Shipley as MC. Another free event. It's like literary Christmas, this festival!

Matariki and Star Lore

Sunday, 29 August 12 to 1pm

Professor Rangi Mātāmua (who literally wrote the book on Matariki) and Victoria Campbell talk Tātai Arorangi, Māori astronomy and star lore. With a new Matariki public holiday being added to all our calendars from 2022 this is a great opportunity to find out what the significance and science of Matariki is.

Catalogue record for Matariki: The star of the year

Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture - Ben Brown

Sunday, 29 August 1.30 to 2.30pm

Earlier this year Lytteltonian writer and educator, Ben Brown, was named the inaugural Te Awhi Rito - Reading Ambassador. I heard him speak at an earlier WORD Christchurch Bad Diaries event and he is a soulful and captivating speaker. In this lecture he will talk about building children’s imagination and confidence through storytelling in all its forms. This is another of WORD's excellent free sessions.

Kā wai o Tahu - Marlon Williams, Ariana Tikao, Ruby Solly

Sunday, 29 August 6 to 7.15pm

Any one of these talented Ngāi Tahu musicians appearing on their own would be a drawcard. To have all three of them together is sure to be something special. I last saw Williams by the banks of the Ōtakaro Avon River accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma and this performance will also have water at its heart promising "songs and stories of the beauty, power and threat of water as it moves through our lives and southern lands". This is the closing event of the festival and I predict it will bring its own special magic.

And the rest

Look, there really is so much great stuff that I've missed out including firm favourites from previous years like: Bad Diaries Salon, The Great WORD Story Hunt, New Regent Street Pop-up Festival, A Cabinet of Curiosities, and the always excellent WORD Gala.

Really, the only thing to do is get your hands on a programme and decide what your picks are for yourself. But trust me, it's easier said than done.

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