Posts Tagged ‘Word Festival’

Writing a memoir is an act of resurrection. I was privileged to hear three authors of memoirs speak at a superb session at this year’s WORD festival. The session was titled Whose life is it anyway? and facilitator Victor Roger was engaging and knowledgeable, telling us that he had laughed and cried when reading each of the three books.

I arrived early with time to browse the University Bookshop stall, where they were selling literary t-shirts, buy one, get one free. I was delighted to get a long-sleeved shirt with a quote from Hermione Granger which says When in doubt go to the library. For Stephen, a lifelong Science Fiction fan, I chose one featuring The War of the Worlds by HG Wells.

The three writers on the panel were Ruth Shaw (The Bookseller at the End of the World), Megan Dunn (Things I learned at Art School), and Clementine Ford (How We Love). I’d not read any of these, although two were already on my For Later list (to which the third has now been added). I was surprised that the theatre was only two-thirds full. The session was also being live-streamed, and I guess there are people who are still wary of being out in crowds, even though all the audience was masked.

Megan Dunn, Clementine Ford, Ruth Shaw, Victor Roger

Clementine explained she was wearing a hat because she’d been travelling for ten days and her hair needed attention. She also said her grandmother would have been horrified by this. I’d previously heard Clementine speak on a panel in 2015 where the topic was How to be a feminist. This time she spoke of how we often see our past selves in negative ways, carrying self-doubt inside. To have a relatable story with depth you have to get to know your inner self, ask them to forgive you, and they will, because all they’ve ever wanted is your love.

Megan said: Good girls write memoirs, bad girls don’t have time. Her father had suggested to her that some things are better left unsaid. In 1989 she was 14 years old and her family were living above an old persons’ home, when her uncle killed himself. Some of her writing is therefore about a child absorbing death. Her description of her own mother’s death was incredibly moving. This mother was never supported to reach her potential or be publicly known, and Megan is now honouring her in this book, so that thousands of people know her and cry for her.

Ruth said she was able to draw on lots of diaries and letters, but recalling the emotions was tricky. She often imagined the person she was writing about standing beside her, together with those who would become her readers. After being raped she became pregnant at 17, and found her mother’s reaction difficult to understand, but her mother later explained the difficulty of living in a small community among the families of the perpetrators.

Megan pointed out there are many lonely people in the world, and suggested one way to combat loneliness is to buy these books.

Clementine said that if you know someone you can be a witness to their life, and that is an important form of love. She recommended the film Beaches as an example of this. Clementine would like to write about her father, who re-married after her mother died. She hopes he will die before his second wife does so she can write the book and that woman can read it.

When questioned about censoring what you’ve written Ruth said she had changed the names of her four husbands and son, to protect their privacy.

All the authors were amazingly open about their stories, and I had tears in my eyes on several occasions. This was a stimulating and very worthwhile session, and I look forward to the pleasure of reading each of their books. Have you read these memoirs?

Their stories came right from the heart
there’s more to read – a further part

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What a treat to hear Marilyn Waring speak this afternoon at the Word Festival.  The host was U.C. Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, who mentioned that Marilyn is currently supervising seventeen fortunate PhD students.  There were many gems, and instead of making notes I simply enjoyed them.

The talk focussed on Marilyn’s latest book “The Political Years”.  I have a hold on this, and I’m number 11 on eight copies.  I was tempted to buy a copy, but decided to wait in anticipation (which is, after all, half the pleasure).

At the end an audience member asked Marilyn “What gives you hope for the future?” and her answer was “Women”.  She said they have Boris, Donald, Bolsonaro, and Erdogan, while we have Jacinda and Angela.

It was an inspiring and stimulating hour.  Unfortunately the picture I took was blurry.

Bronwyn Hayward and Marilyn Waring (right)

Marilyn was one M.P.
who truly represented me

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An afternoon of feminism was not to be missed.  ‘All About Women’ took place at the Sydney Opera House, and was live-streamed to various venues throughout Australia.  I was surpised that the Christchurch Art Gallery auditorium was only half full for this event.  It was good to hear several women acknowledge the first peoples of Australia, especially Tracey Spicer, who said that the land under the Opera House was and always will be aboriginal land.



The first speaker was actor Geena Davis, who spoke about ‘Women in Media’.  Geena played Thelma in ‘Thelma and Louise’, and said one response to that film was ‘now the women have guns the world is ruined’!.  She pointed out that she has enough money to be able to choose her roles, and she chooses ones that women will feel empowered by.  With humour, passion, and statistics, Geena illustrated that in family movies men have 2.5 to 3 times as many speaking roles as women.  We are teaching children from a young age that women are less important and less valuable than men.  While equality in the real world may be a long way off instant parity is possible onscreen.  For example, the prevalence of women forensic scientists in shows such as ‘Bones’ and ‘CSI’ means that numbers of women studying forensic science have skyrocketed.  It is vital that we all do all we can to encourage, vote for, and hire women.

The second session was questions and answers with Jessa Crispin, author of “Why I Am Not a Feminist”.  It seems that feminism is the only word we currently have for a person who believes all people are equal, but Jessa believes it has become too universal.  She liked it better when feminism was a dirty word, because if feminism is a danger we’re more likely to get change.  Young people are less inclined to recognise inequality, and slacktavism and compromise have crept in.  Lower class women have been removed from the agenda of feminism which is focussed on the middle class.   Self-empowerment encourages individualism, and we need to look beyond this.

The third session was a panel of ‘Nasty Women’.  The name stems from Trump’s statement that Hillary is a ‘nasty woman’, but super female powers have turned that negative name into a positive.  The three panellists and chairwoman had many gems of wisdom.

Van Badham said the way to change society is to join a trade union or community organisation.  We thought we’d won and we’ve stopped fighting because of a false sense of security.  If we’re not active in democracy we get Donald Trump.  There is power in solidarity – stand by others.  It’s important to ‘die on the right side’.  Take strength from the women who came before and those who will come afterwards – find strength in the feminist tradition.  Fighting against injustice gives your own life meaning.

Lindy West said solidarity is vital, the foundation of equality, activism, and freedom.  No need to start new organisations – join those that have been working for equality for years.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied talked of the need to constantly push uphill.  Having conversations in your circles will have an effect on the people around you and it will grow.  Her input was moving and passionate.  She urged us to decide what our own values are and live by those values.

If you’d like to hear more of All About Women, it’s available here.

“So good to hear these women talk
they’re ones who really walk the walk.”

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A clever exhibition Carpe Librum ‘Seize the Book’ was part of the Word Festival.  It’s on show at Ara Institute (formerly CPIT) Artbox in Madras Street until Friday.  Some of the works by Ara students and staff were made from decommissioned books from Ara’s library.

By Deborah Marshall

By Deborah Marshall

Deborah Marshall, photography tutor, sent her book out and asked those who picked it up to take a photo of themselves with it, then pass it on.

Dinner is served by Bruce Aitken

Dinner is served by Bruce Aitken


by Penny Jamieson

by Penny Jamieson

Penny Jamieson made a beautiful new book in a clamshell box.

by Carol King

by Carol King

Carol King’s offering used a book called ‘The Utilisation of Wood Waste’ and included a toilet roll holder.

'Bang Bang Bang' by Henry Sunderland

‘Bang Bang Bang’ by Henry Sunderland

The bullets in Henry Sunderland’s work were labelled Google, Facebook, and YouTube.

“It’s good to go and have a look
see what they can do with a book.”

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The walking tour along the Otakaro was a feature of this year’s WORD festival.  Offered on three days, it quickly sold out, and I was glad to have secured a place.  Joseph Hullen (Ngai Tuahuriri, Ngai Tahu) led us first to the riverbank in Victoria Square, opposite the law courts, where there is a significant group of Ti Kouka/Cabbage trees.

Ti Kouka (Small)

Ti Kouka trees, of the same family as leeks and onions, provided food, shelter, clothing, and footwear for early Maori.  This area was the largest mahinga kai/food gathering area in Otautahi, and from here food was transported to the settlement at Kaiapoi.  There were a number of Pa nearby, which served as way stations for travellers, and where people could keep an eye on their food source.  From the 1780s local Maori interacted and traded with sealers and whalers, but in 1850 the Pa sites disappeared with the Kemp Purchase.  The first organised commerce between Kai Tahu and Pakeha settlers happened at the Market Square (now Victoria Square).  Maori built houses on the corner where the Oxford Tavern later stood, and brought goods in from Kaiapoi to sell to the settlers.

There were urupa/graveyards all through the city, because Maori like to bury their dead where they can keep an eye on them.  When the St Luke’s Vicarage was built a skeleton was found which is considered to be that of Tautahi for whom Otautahi was named.  Since the earthquakes, wherever there are excavations they will be overseen by an archaeologist, and by a member of the runanga if it’s an area where there may have been an urupa.

Because of the food gathering tradition of the Otakaro/Avon River, Kai Tahu are keen to have their cultural values commemorated.  Patterns laid out in stone, such as this one at the Margaret Mahy Family Playground, help to tell the stories.

Maori Design MMP (Small)

The patterns are set in a metal frame so that if the area needs to be dug up in future the pattern can ramain intact.

Some of Joseph’s story was heard in an interview with Kim Hill on Saturday morning.  His part comes after the bit with Sam Crofskey of C1 Espresso.

After the walk I went to a session on Ngai Tahu Story Telling with Ta Tipene O’Regan.  He talked about an oral map, and how when cultures move they take the memories with them and plant them in a new place.  Place names are the memory posts, the signposts of the land.  He told the story of Poutini, and how Port Levy got its Maori name Koukourarata.   Ta Tipene said that myth is the only reality.

“An afternoon of Maori lore
has left me wanting to hear more.”



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Bust (Small)

‘Feminism and Popular Culture’ was the title of Saturday morning’s session at WORD.  Debbie Stoller is the co-founder and editor of Bust magazine, and the author of the Stitch n Bitch books.  There were more men at this session – at least ten – but they all appeared to be there with a female partner.  The session opened with an inquiry as to whether anyone had brought their knitting.

Bust magazine (“for women with something to get off their chests’) has been published since 1993 and just produced its 100th issue.  The aim is to publish the truth and variety about women – ‘girlie feminism’.  Debbie spoke of the difficulty of producing a feminist magazine in print and said they need to ‘pull themselves up by their brastraps every day’.  There is no money in feminism, and a hard copy magazine is considered retro and vintage these days.  She spoke of how they started by doing the layout by hand, copying by xerox, and stapling the sheets together.  I was reminded of my days editing the Values Party Linkletter (doing layout with removable cow gum), and the early days of Broadsheet. 

Debbie talked about how those working in the private sphere, e.g. stay-at-home mothers, get no public recognition, but these days they can start a ‘lifestyle’ blog with photos, and this transforms their work into something more satisfying.  People in the public eye used to be afraid to say they were feminists, for fear of backlash, but nowadays celebrities are afraid not to be feminist because of possible backlash.  She pointed out that the myth that feminists are ‘ugly and hate men’ goes right back to suffrage days.  Many issues are too complex to be discussed on Twitter, and there is no real arena available to explore issues affecting women.  These days mainstream media is the site of change and power, where once it was politics.

It was interesting to hear a younger woman talk about today’s feminist issues.  Most of my feminist friends are in their sixties or older, and I sometimes wonder where the young feminists are.  There is no feminist magazine in Aotearoa since Broadsheet ceased in 1997.  The Hand Mirror is a local blog which discussed feminist issues, and there must be more?  Debbie said that while women may now be able to make choices, they are still making them within a sexist society, and just being able to make a choice doesn’t mean you’re a feminist.  She wondered whether the fact that we can say anything is feminist may mean that feminism will die.  Having a satisfying paid career is often seen as the aim for women, but that comes from a male culture,  We need to re-value and re-consider the things that come from a female culture, e.g. knitting and cooking.

Asked about the U.S. Presidential election Debbie said that although she had supported Bernie Sanders she would be voting for Hilary Clinton, because the U.S. system means people are obliged to vote strategically ‘for the lesser evil‘.

“Feminist future seems to me
to be uncertain as can be.”



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A panel discussion on ‘Imaginary Cities’ included three authors, and an urban designer from the Christchurch City Council.

Anna Smaill spoke of how memory is accessed differently in the city where you grew up.  In a city you can be alone yet sociable, and every new city you move to has the potential to be utopia (or dystopia).

Hamish Clayton spoke of Wellington – how the geography there intensifies the city, and the university is close to other institutions such as Government.  He cautioned that Wellington may be turning towards self-satisfaction.

Hugh Nicholson, principal adviser in urban design at the City Council, pointed out that cities are always changing, and Christchurch is changing at speed.  The compexity of cities makes them vibrant and exciting, and the changes are the accumulation of millions of individual decisions.  He lameted the fact that there’d been no opportunity to turn ‘Share an Idea’ into a process.

Fiona Farrell read from the first chapter of her book “The Villa at the Edge of the Empire” (which sold out within a week).  The book has been described as being written with an angry mind, a philosophical spirit, and a wise and forgiving heart.  She pointed out that changes are often driven by politics, power, and the impulse to profit.

There was discussion of how memory is so much tied up with place, and that the loss of place can bring psychic disturbance.  However a novel can be comforting, bringing possibility and hope.  In Christchurch it’s dangerous to forget about streams and faultlines.  In the Blitz the City of London lost 45% of its buildings, and in Central Christchurch we have lost 70%.  The blueprint is essentially utopian, but utopias are always beyond our reach, while a city is continually changing and always in a state of becoming.

“How could our city yet evolve
is not a question we can solve.”


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Patricia Grace discussed her new novel “Chappy” with Paula Morris in a session at the Christchurch Arts Festival.  This was in the Speigeltent, which is attractive, but rather cold.


Hearing Patricia talk about being brought up in two different worlds (Irish and Maori) reminded me of her novel “Cousins” which I read earlier this year.  These days she lives among people she grew up with, in a community in Plimmerton, close to all the amenities of Wellington city.  The starting point of “Chappy” came from hearing her husband talk about a Japanese man who lived in Ruatoria prior to the second world war.  During the war he was interned on Soames Island, and later deported, leaving his family behind.  Patricia wondered how he may have come to New Zealand, and made up ideas about this.  She writes about ordinary people leading ordinary lives, and for Maori land issues are part of ordinary life.  In “Chappy” she writes about parallel issues in Hawaii.

Patricia works hard at her writing.  In earlier years (with seven children) she wrote from 9 to 5 daily, but now (aged 78) it’s mornings only and she’s “gone by lunchtime”.  She and Paula talked about how N.Z. literature now reflects more of our multiculturalism, but published literature is still very Pakeha, reflecting the numbers in the population.  Twenty years ago Carl Stead said we were a single culture absorbing small amounts from other cultures.  Patricia pointed out that Pakeha is now seen as a term of respect, many people describe themselves as such, and Te Reo is gradually being absorbed into English.  Her novel “Potiki”, published in 1986, was seen as being subversive and divisive because there was no glossary for the Maori words.  She didn’t include a glossary because Te Reo is not a foreign language in Aotearoa,  and this deliberate political act was ground-breaking.   These days many of us, esepcially the younger generation, understand a lot of Te Reo.

“Which is the place where you belong
the land to which your ties are strong?”



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