Whakanuia: 8 Events Worth Celebrating at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

A selection of events we think are worth celebrating from the WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 New Zealand, spanning masculinity, mountains, the power of names and the politics of our bodies.

WORD Christchurch, the largest literary event in the South Island, returns from 29 August – 2 September. Here are a selection of events we think are worth celebrating.

At their best, literary festivals are places for debate, for multiple voices, for politics and subversion, or to be surprised and moved. WORD Christchurch has a reputation for being all of these things, and for having some of the most progressive and imaginative programming.

We talked to Programme Director Rachael King about programming this year’s WORD, and she said part of her focus has been “to give up some control and invite other people to the programming table”. To do this, King has been working with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, who were asked to nominate the stories they want to share, and poet Tusiata Avia was invited be a guest programmer.

As guest programmer, Avia has put together sessions she “would love to see” and that “would excite her”: Fast Burning Women, Aotearoa Poet Laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh in discussion with Avia about how to burn bright but not out; The Body is Not An Apology, American poet, writer and social activist Sonya Renee Taylor exploring the intersections of radical self love and social justice; and Comfortable in Your Skin (one of our picks), in which playwright Victor Rodger will chair a panel of Queer creatives of colour.

Of what she wanted to achieve, Avia says: “I’ve often spoken about who does the programming, edits the literary journals, writes the reviews, and generally makes decisions about who and what is visible in this country. It’s not difficult to figure out – just take a flick through the organisers and you’ll find it’s overwhelmingly Pākehā.”

“I’ve often talked about how we as Pacific writers are popped into a ‘Pacific’ corner of a programme. Mostly this guarantees you an audience of a dozen or so people, and in the mind of the festival-goer limits you to being a Pacific writer only. Pacific writing is not a genre. Neither is the writing of people of colour or Queer folk or any other ‘diverse’ group. As a guest programmer, this is all in the back of my mind,” says Avia.

WORD has also, as King says, “expanded from being a book festival to being a word festival” as a way to “attract people who don’t think of themselves as writers, or even readers”. Instead King sees the festival as a place people use “words to convey ideas”. King goes on to say: “We think about programming events with different voices – to make everyone feel welcome, and to find exciting speakers who will enrich the programme. We’ve made as many events as possible free to attend.”

"The work is not done, but it has begun,” King says. “I find the best thing I can do is just listen to people, and to keep watching and learning.”

Sarah Jane Barnett

Photograph: *Manu, Aitu FAFSWAG series, 2016. Pati Solomona Tyrell*

Comfortable in Your Skin
6 – 7pm, Friday 31 August | Entry by koha (proceeds to Q-topia)

Easily my top pick for the festival, and – in light of our recent essay on queer writers in Aotearoa – one of the reasons we love WORD Christchurch so much. It's also one of the sessions devised by guest programmer Tusiata Avia.

The extraordinary panel will feature local and international queer people of colour, including iconic trans mover and shaker Georgina Beyer, author, performance poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor, and queer indigenous creatives Pati Solomona Tyrell and Manu Vaeatangitau (FAFSWAG). They will discuss their writing, art and activism in a talanoa with award-winning playwright Victor Rodger.

To the Mountains
4 – 5pm, Saturday 1 SeptemberTickets

As someone who grew up in the South Island, the Southern Alps are a firm fixture in my childhood memories. At this session, Nic Low (Ngāi Tahu), whose forthcoming book details a literary and bicultural walking expedition of the Southern Alps, will talk to Dunedin-based novelist Laurence Fearnley about To the Mountains, the anthology she has edited with adventurer and writer Paul Hersey. Bound to be a lively and thoughtful conversation about how mountains loom large in their lives and in our literature.

Jonathan Drori: Around the World in 80 Trees
4 – 5pm, Friday 31 AugustTickets

WORD always features some of the most fascinating international writers (for instance, WORD was where I discovered Ivan Coyote). Jonathan Drori is a brilliant example of a writer you might not have heard of but will be hooked by. Author, trustee of the Eden Project in Cornwall, and formerly a board member of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a BBC science documentary filmmaker, Drori uses plant science to illuminate how trees play a role in every part of our lives, from the romantic to the regrettable, and how they are capable of the most bizarre antics.

Matariki Williams

Kā Huru Manu: My names are the treasured cloak which adorns the land
10 – 11am, Friday 31 August | Free entry

Three times now, I’ve heard Takerei Norton talk about this project and I would absolutely listen a fourth time. The importance of names on a landscape cannot be understated – many carry rich stories and histories related to whenua and people. Many other names reflect dominance and subjugation; the re-naming and un-naming that came with colonial settlement. Kā Huru Manu indeed adorns the land, showing the close relationship that Ngāi Tahu have with their whenua. Kā Huru Manu is centuries in the making, resurfacing Ngāi Tahu iwi mātauranga and making it available for generations to come.

Te Ao Hou: Weaving indigenous identity back into Ōtautahi
2 – 3pm, Fri 31 August / Sat 1 September / Sun 2 September | Sold out!

It wasn’t until very recently that I have come to know how Ngāi Tahu are raising the visibility of their iwi in the built heritage of the Ōtautahi city centre. From brickwork that references the visual languages of kākahu from their iwi, to sculptural work that has popped up around the city, their presence can’t be ignored. I have also had the immense pleasure of hearing Joseph Hullen speak before; the first time was as he took a roopu of kaitiaki Māori from museums and galleries to the Tūtaepatu Lagoon. On this walk we heard of the environmental regeneration taking place, which in turn feeds the arts through providing materials for raranga. It was a small aspect of much wider mahi they are undertaking and it’s so inspiring to see.

Hannah Newport-Watson

Manly As?
1 – 2pm, Saturday 1 SeptemberTickets

What is masculinity, anyway? That’s something I’d like to know, so this session featuring Chris Tse, Dominic Hoey and Omar Musa immediately drew my eye.

The men in Tse’s latest poetry collection, He’s so MASC, dance, cry and fall into bed with one another. Pop music echoes throughout the emotional landscape of the book.

Hoey and Musa, on the other hand, also happen to be rappers. Unlike pop music, I associate rap with bravado and swagger. The opening lines of Musa’s novel Here Come the Dogs read, “Where are these cunts? It’s too hot bro, too fucken’ long without rain.” It’s an indisputably masculine book about three young men in suburban Australia. Musa had a brilliant conversation with Selina Tusitala Marsh at the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival about cultural appropriation, hip-hop culture, and toxic masculinity.

Meanwhile Hoey, in a 2015 interview, said, “There's this idea that to be a Kiwi male, you've got to be a big, dumb, rugby-playing, meat-eating idiot … I don't believe in gender. I think it's a total construct.” This session promises to test all my preconceptions about rappers and turn them inside out.

The Body Issue
5.30 – 7pm, Saturday 1 SeptemberTickets

To be a woman or a non-binary person on stage, talking frankly about your body is two things, in my opinion: subversive, and deeply, utterly generous. We carry so much of our identity in our bodies. As Sonya Renee Taylor writes in her book The Body as Not an Apology, our bodies “are the only way we get to experience this ridiculous and radiant life”. They are home not only to our emotions and physical experiences, but also to the system of visual codes and characteristics that determine how we are read and treated by others.

Featured in the session are Annaleese Jochems, Tayi Tibble, Kirsten McDougall, Sonya Renee Taylor, Juno Dawson, Helen Heath, Daisy Speaks and Ray Shipley, with Charlotte Graham-McLay as chair – a superb selection of writers and speakers, many of whom have had to fight hard to claim space for their bodies. I expect this session to be subversive, generous and damn good.

Explosive Archaeology
10 – 11am, Sunday 2 SeptemberTickets

Naturally I think this session chaired by The Pantograph Punch editor-in-chief Lana Lopesi is going to be brilliant!

With a cross-disciplinary panel of guests that includes poet Tayi Tibble, curator Jennifer Shields, novelist Brannavan Gnanalingam, and writer and academic Erin Harrington, the session is framed by a simple question: Who are the underappreciated artists you love?

In her recent interview with Paula Green for NZ Poetry Shelf, Tayi Tibble cited an intriguing variety of influences, including American-Iranian poet Kaveh Akbar and UK poet Warsan Shire. Who knows what other discoveries this session may bring you.

From its simple starting point, the conversation can and no doubt will stray into trickier territory, such as, what does it mean to be part of (or not) a national canon? It could be the unexpected gem of your festival weekend.

The full programme for WORD Christchurch Festival 2018 is available here.

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