National Writers Forum: The Clocks are Striking Thirteen, by Chris Cleave

Apparently Chris Cleave has been on the road promoting his new book, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, since January. On hearing this, I half expected a bedraggled Cleave to front for the keynote speech of our first National Writers Forum: crumpled notes in hand, world-weary and longingly counting down the days until home. Instead, Cleave presented the most calm, thoughtful, and compelling commentary I’ve heard on the current global socio-economic climate and the resulting challenges writers are facing, not just in their work, but also in their lives.

Cleave had obviously done his research. He started with a discussion of New Zealand literature and his experiences with a country that maintains a cultural focus while still having a healthy curiosity for the outward world. New Zealand, Cleave says, “punches well above its weight in literature”, sometimes much to his chagrin, what with all these New Zealand Man Booker Prize wins. Yet, he assures us, he doesn’t hate us.

But hate is on the rise, and the hard right is resurgent. As Cleave so aptly put it: “People are building walls again, and topping them with barbed wire.” And the problem with this hate? It’s catching – and so much more readily compressible; perfectly adapted to the digital medium. Rage has become the fuelling emotion of our era. 

So, in a world filled with viral sound bites of hate, what can writers do to be useful? Cleave detailed a list of five things that writers can do to matter in an Orwellian world of fuelled by “Two Minutes Hate” – I thoroughly recommend that you read this list, along with the full transcript of Chris’s speech, on his website (link below). They’re points that deserve thoughtful reflection, and a pause for breath.

Though I’m sure that all writers and the bookishly inclined will gain something different from Cleave’s list, the one that really stuck with me was number four: tell stories in a world no longer listening to fact. With science, reason and statistical analysis all failing to hold authority in our current political climates, storytellers have become the most powerful change makers. While this is a dangerous and somewhat scary thought, I do find something thrillingly Foucauldian about the idea. That this might be a step towards empowering subjugated knowledges – those low-ranking knowledges embodied and learned through human experience – is comforting in a way that cold, hard facts never could be.

 We live in a storied world. As Cleave puts it: “When we act like human beings we write like human beings. And when we write like human beings, people are drawn to read us.” Evil may be quick, dominating, and seductive; but appealing to humanity – something that writers have always done well – has the power to change this narrative, and to know when it has achieved its purpose.

Read the full transcript of Chris Cleave’s amazing speech here.

Event attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

National Writers Forum: The Clocks are Striking Thirteen: Chris Cleave

NWF: Janet Frame Memorial Lecture ­– Authors, an Endangered Species: Joan Rosier-Jones.

pp_joan_rosier-jonesWhen I first saw the title of this lecture, I thought that it might turn out to be a rather grim note to prologue the National Writers Forum, which officially starts today. I couldn’t have been more wrong ­– Joan Rosier-Jones presented a very informative overview of copyright changes in New Zealand since 1987, the year she joined PEN (Now the New Zealand Society of Authors, or the NZSA); and talked passionately about how theNZSA advocates for writers, ensuring that they do not become extinct.

The session was started by Gordon McLauchlan, who introduced Joan as a practitioner ­­– and therefore a ‘professional survivor’ of the publishing industry. During her time Joan has done far much more than just survive – she’s thrived, writing around 18 novels and books about writing, and she’s been extraordinarily active in advocating and encouraging writing culture in New Zealand. Joan was the first female Chair of the Auckland branch of the NZSA, serving during the transitory period of 1993-1995, during many a heated debate about the 1994 copyright changes (she mentioned one particular ‘debate’ where fists almost became involved). She became the President of the NZSA in 1999 and served through until 2001, and she was also one of the first writer directors of Copyright Licencing NZ. Joan now holds the position of NZSA President of Honour – following Phillip Temple. Other recent Presidents of Honour include Owen Marshall, Joy Cowley, and Sir James McNeish.

Joan did a great job of outlining how copyright has changed for authors since the overhaul of New Zealand copyright legislation in 1994, covering everything from the introduction of moral rights and the establishment of Copyright Licensing NZ, to the 2011 ‘digital age’ copyright changes and potential implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (copyright term currently extends to 50 years after the death of the originator in NZ, under the TPP, this period could extend to 70 years).

Next she talked more specifically about publishing contracts and some of their potential sticking points. While translation rights, digital rights, broadcast and merchandising are reasonably standard requests by publishers (though these can be negotiated), I had no idea that publishers can ask for rights for media forms ‘yet to be invented’… definitely something for the signing author to be wary of, and to opt-out of where possible!

One of the problems with contracts is that authors can be a vulnerable lot. At the beginning of her talk, Joan mentioned that she signed her first three contracts without really reading them – something that in the heat and excitement of the moment, many signing authors may still fail to do. While the doors to publishing expand digitally and retract in print, writers are presented with a variety of new hurdles ­– and it’s great to know that organisations like the NZSA exist to prevent writers from ‘becoming extinct’.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

Emma Bryson is at the National Writers Forum reporting on behalf of Booksellers NZ all weekend.

 

 

 

The Rehearsal, directed by Alison Maclean

The Rehearsal is released nationwide on 18 September

poster_the_rehearsalThe Rehearsal is guaranteed to bring back all of your awkward teenage memories. And it is one of the best coming-of-age films I have seen in a long time.

Set in a drama school simply called ‘The Institute’, The Rehearsal tracks the life of Stanley (James Rolleston) as he becomes part of the churning-out-actors system, led by head tutor Hannah (Kerry Fox). Her focus is on getting the young actors to forget themselves, and open themselves up to being vulnerable.

Stanley meets a 15-year-old girl, then re-meets her by chance while role-playing one day, and tentatively starts a relationship with her. At the same time, we learn of a scandal at a local tennis club, where a coach has been carrying on with one of his students – as it happens, Stanley’s girlfriend’s old sister is the student. Stanley’s group has to create an end-of-year project, and as they have independently learned more than most about the scandal, they decide to create the play about this.

The script is spare, letting the young actors meet the challenge in a natural, off-the-cuff way. While I haven’t read the book (ok I admit it) I understand from the friend I attended with that the movie is different, and that this is a good thing. The use of a tennis club to open up the settings seemed an excellent way of bringing light into the movie, and contrasted well with some of the grimier spaces the movie lurks in.

The thing I enjoyed most about the movie was the humour. It wasn’t all drama students ranting and raging across the stage, and memorialising their darkest hours. From being a drama-type student at High School, mid-production things did get a little dark, and this was reflected accurately. But it was genuinely funny, though I noticed sometimes I was the only one laughing…

The final set-piece was superbly done, and served as a chance for some of the actors to look straight at the camera in farewell. I highly recommend going along and seeing this when it comes to a cinema near you  when it comes out on general release on 18 September.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Rehearsal
Directed by Alison Maclean
Script by Emily Perkins and Alison Maclean
based on the novel by Eleanor Catton (VUP 2008, ISBN 9780864735812)

WORD: Ask A Mortician, Caitlin Doughty interviewed by Marcus Elliott

Caitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background-copyDeath is an odd thing to be chipper about. LA-based mortician, ‘death positive’ advocate and YouTube star Caitlin Doughty is definitely chipper, though: she has that extreme chirpiness that I’m going to assume is compulsory for anyone living in Los Angeles. And yet she is not flippant: in amongst her ebullient humour is a serious intellectual and moral engagement with issues of death, grieving, funeral customs, end-of-life care and spirituality. I felt immediately drawn to her. If it were possible to pre-book one’s own mortician, I would consign my corpse into Doughty’s hands without a second thought.

Doughty was interviewed by local coroner Marcus Elliott, who did a good job of asking interesting questions and then giving Doughty plenty of space to answer them. (I must also give him props for his dapper blue cravat.*) Doughty entered the death industry as a young woman fresh out of her medieval history degree. “My relationship with death is the best relationship of my life.” When she was 8, she had seen a small child fall from a balcony, and “the spectre of death began to haunt me … [but] dialogue with my parents [on this topic] was not open”. She spoke about the ways in which children are curious about death, but we tell them that their interest is dirty, or weird, or wrong. This is one of the many things Doughty wants to change.

Another is the way that the professionalisation of death has distanced us from the dead body. A century ago in the Western world, the family cared for the corpse; dead bodies lay in state in the home and then were carried out for burial. Only in the 20th century have we developed a professionalised class of death workers, who come and remove the corpse from the home (or, more likely, hospital) and take it away. “Nowadays, being around a corpse causes terror and confusion … We have a weird, ‘uncanny valley’, creeped-out relationship with the dead body.”

One of the many things I learned from Doughty in this session – and I look forward to learning more from her book that I bought, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – is the history of embalming. “Originally embalming was an American thing – you’re welcome – and was used during the civil war to keep bodies preserved long enough to transport them back to the north.” Embalmers would follow the battles and set up stalls, sometimes embellished with a heavily embalmed unclaimed corpse to serve as advertising. And then, after the war ended and the demand threatened to dry up, the embalming chemical companies invested heavily in training people as embalmers and selling their services. And so the funeral industry developed. “New Zealanders are the second most regular embalmers after Americans, you’re welcome for that as well.”

One of the most common objections to embalming that Doughty hears from mourners is that it makes the corpse look strange, which interferes with the grieving process. This is something else Doughty wants to change. “Sitting with the corpse is always difficult and beautiful … There is a sacred quality to caring for the corpses of those we love.”

One thing Doughty warned us about, which reminded me of Atul Gawande’s talk at the Auckland Writers Festival last year, is that “the good death isn’t handed to you … you have to have the conversations and do the planning.” Particularly under our current medical system, which will try and keep you alive as long as possible, even when quality of life has deteriorated horribly. Doughty worked on the campaign that led to California recently passing a law that allows for assisted dying.

Recently Doughty has opened her own business, “the only non-profit funeral home in LA”. She offers a service of coming to your home to look after the corpse, but is finding that “once you explain to people that it’s safe and legal and how to do it, they do it themselves. It turns out they didn’t need a professional at all.”

Elliott asked about alternatives to traditional burial and cremation. There’s composting: “composting bodies is really quite a beautiful process … they turn to soil in 6-8 weeks”. And aquamation, using very hot water and lye, which “flash decomposes the body down to something like ash.” Or conservation burial, whereby you have yourself buried on some land in order to prevent it being developed, “like chaining yourself to a tree, but you’re dead”.

There was the inevitable audience question about the afterlife. Doughty says she visualises her life being like a film reel, which flaps off at the end into an empty white nothingness: “that brings me comfort”. And comfort, overall, is what I took from her session.

* I think it was a cravat. The names of different kinds of clothing isn’t really my area of specialty.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty interviewed by Marcus Elliott

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
by Caitlin Doughty
Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN 9781782111030

 

WORD: The Stars Are On Fire, with Tipene O’Regan, Caitlin Doughty, Stephen Daisley, Tusiata Avia, Steve Hely, Ivan E. Coyote and Hollie Fullbrook

Festival Director Rachael King opened this fsampler event to rapturous applause, speaking about the theme of the festival – how can we look after the planet and its people. This was followed by Kim Hill, who was suffering from the condition (not uncommon) of not being John Campbell (who was meant to do the introductions). She managed to find a quirky fact about each performer to announce them, and in no way was inferior to the great Campbell – and I prefer her voice, anyway.

The first performer was Sir Tipene O’Regan. It was an honour to hear one of the first Polynesian creation myths from such a legendary Ngai Tahu figure. His telling included humour, and felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to savour. “First there was nothing, and then there were darks. All sorts of darks.”

The second performer was Caitlin Doughty, who took us through the routine of cremation. Caitlin is an undertaker, and runs a crematorium. She first got a sense of how many in the audience were intending to be cremated – about 50%, which she says is about average for New Zealand. I now know that it takes about 2 hours to burn a body (at around 815 degrees celcius) to the stage that it is ready to be placed in the Cremulator to be turned to ashes.

Next up was Stephen Daisley, who talked a little about emotions and family. He then, slightly bafflingly, treated us to a sample of an excellent review that Owen Marshall did of Coming Rain on The Spinoff. Daisley seems to me like somebody who can’t quite believe his talent is finally being acknowledged, so I’m happy to see him finding his space in the literary community.

Tusiata Avia performed two poems next: first, one from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House, then one called ‘My body’. I have seen Avia perform many times, and each time I am newly grateful that she shares her talent with us. She is a dynamic reader, who knows how to play her audiences, and how to lose them in the beauty of her language.

Steve Hely was up next: he is an award-winning comic writer for TV shows in the US, including The Office. He talked about a bus trip he took through the Atacama in Chile. Most of the men on the bus were Coal Miners, heading home after long periods away: the attendant on the bus though chose Austenland, as the DVD to help take away some of the boredom. It does seem an odd choice, and I think Hely may have hit the nail on the head when he decided the attendant chose it solely to annoy the miners, who wouldn’t have had a hope of understanding it.

The absolute stand-out for everybody in the audience tonight, I think, was Ivan E. Coyote. They were such a stunning storyteller, that in telling about the females that they were influenced by while growing up made everybody in the audience feel they wanted to have known these great women of the Yukon. Elizabeth Heritage will be reviewing their solo event on Sunday.

The final performer was the talented Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins. She also sang about a bus journey, and the space between individual experience.

I now want to see each and every one of these people in action again. Judging from Twitter, the near to sold-out audience was all with me. Get ready for another ticket sales spike, WORD!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Caitlin Doughty is appearing in:
Embracing Death, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm
The Nerd Degree, Sun 28 Aug, 5pm

Stephen Daisley is appearing in:
Writing War Stories, Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Coming Rain, Sun 28 Aug, 11am

Tusiata Avia is appearing in:
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
Spirit House/ Unity, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

Steve Hely is appearing in:
How to be a Writer: Steve Hely, Sat 27 Aug, 3.30pm
The Great NZ Crime Debate, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm
The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm

Ivan E. Coyote is appearing in:
Taku Kupu Ki Te Ao: My Word to the World, Sat 27 Aug, 1-4pm
Hear My Voice, Sat 27 Aug, 5.30pm
The Storyteller: Ivan E. Coyote, Sun 28 Aug, 11am

Hollie Fullbrook is appearing in:
Workshop: Songwriting with Hollie Fullbrook, Sat 27 Aug, 9.30am
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?, Sat 27 Aug, 12.30pm
In Love With These Times, Sat 27 Aug, 7.30pm

 

 

WORD: Can Books Change the World, with Peter Biggs as chair, Kate De Goldi, John Freeman and Victor Rodger

What a great event to begin the WORD festival with. The Piano is a brand new venue and perfect for a literary festival. This panel discussion was chaired by Peter Biggs, and drew us immediately into the ethics of being a writer. Is it about engaging with real world events, or do writers just tell stories. Is there any such thing as ‘just a story?’

pp_kate de goldiKate De Goldi had some interesting reflections on how children can be engaged morally and ethically. “Writing is an ethical act, especially as a children’s writer.” She explained that children’s literature happens in the space between knowing and not knowing. It grows out of children’s misunderstandings of the world around them. To read allows children to develop empathy and curiosity.

JohnFreeman-no-credit-copyLiterary magazine editor and writer John Freeman gave a political and American voice to the discussion. He explained that writers don’t often set out to engage in political views, rather they are addicted to writing, it is a habit, and out of it a voice grows, and you gain confidence that it speaks truthfully. It is not just about characters, but situations. Once you develop a voice you have to ask where to situate yourselves. He sees literature as a political act.

victor_rodgerVictor Rodger got all the witty lines. As a part Samoan, part Palagi gay man, his story was there, unique and ready to be told. He used writing to make sense of a confusing childhood – and to share his experiences to help others in the same situation. He sees theatre as being able to push boundaries and make people squirm, citing his popular play Black Faggot as an excellent example. He also reflected that books do change the world, something the other two didn’t commit to – citing The Bible, and the Qu’ran. Kate De Goldi noted that there are still families in which the only written word available at home is the Bible – undoubtedly this is also true of the Qu’ran.

Peter Biggs saw books as providing a slower form of narrative in this fast-paced world. “Forms of longer narrative are crucial to working out who we are, and what our world is. Books re-enlarge our idea of what a citizen is, while the world around us is reducing us to consumers.” In response, Kate noted that it was ironic in a way that books had become a commodity themselves – making the point that not all books matter. “The cul de sacs of interiority children’s books need have been ironed out by the requirement of action.”

freemans_arrivalBiggs then pulled us into a further discussion of how it is that the world is in such a state – the rise of Trump, Brexit, Australia changing Prime Ministers frequently: this world should know better – why doesn’t it? Freeman answered on behalf of America: “It is a structural problem, and related to the privatisation of the education system. When a populace is strategically de-educated, they can be controlled.” Rodger agreed –he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Hawaii last year, and saw among those there a lack of consciousness, a failure to get angry when it was warranted.

cv_from_the_cutting_room_of_Barney_KettlyWhen considering how to educate children via fiction, Kate’s response tends to be: children’s books need more semi-colons. The use of semi-colons gives children the layers of complexity that are needed to make sense of the world.

John Freeman doesn’t think books change the world – he thinks they allow us to survive the world. “The people that are most resilient in surviving trauma are those who can narrativise it.” For him, the construction of self can be dangerous, and a book is valuable if it can allow us to see that there is a self beyond our own – to explode the notion of self.

The role of libraries and of booksellers was also noted in the conversation, with the revival of the physical book and the regeneration of independent booksellers. Children’s bookshops in particular have survived through, a) knowing their clients, and b) knowing their stock. Likewise libraries have survived, and even in places where books have been fully digitised in libraries, it is the physical book which kids still prefer.

It was an interesting discussion with the take-away concept being that of the responsibility of writers to be morally and ethically true to their readers. There were also a few book titles and names dropped that are worthwhile hunting down at your local bookshop: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Fiona Farrell’s The Villa at the End of the Empire, Susanna Andrews & Jolisa Gracewood’s Tell You What series, anything by Angela Fornoy – and Freeman noted that those who are writing the most considered work at the moment are writers of colour, queer writers, and those who are otherwise marginalised.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson and Sarah Forster

From The Cutting Room of Barney Kettle
by Kate De Goldi
Published by Longacre
ISBN9781775535768

Kate De Goldi appears in:
Read the World, Sat 27 Aug, 12.15pm
Writing War Stories (Chair), Sat 27 Aug, 3.15pm
Coming Rain: Stephen Daisley (Chair), Sun 28 Aug, 11am.

Freeman’s Literary Journal: Arrival
edited by John Freeman
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925240221

John Freeman also appears in:
A Literary Life: John Freeman, Fri 26 Aug, 11am

Sons
by Victor Rodger
Published by Huia Publishing
ISBN 9781869693039

A Feminist Reading List

We_can_do_itElizabeth Heritage asked for recommended reading lists from each of the people she interviewed in relation to our article on feminist themes at NZ literary festivals. Please feel free to add your own recommended reading at the bottom, and we will incorporate this gradually into the main list.

Our respondents were: Carole Beu, from The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby; Matthew Simpson from publisher HarperCollins NZ; Tilly Lloyd, from Unity Bookshop, Wellington; Writer and Lecturer Anna Jackson; Nicola Strawbridge, from Going West Festival; Kathryn Carmody, from NZ Book Council, and Rachael King, from WORD Christchurch.

cv_a_history_of_nz_women A History of NZ Women, by Barbara Brookes (BWB) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
• Animal: The Autobiograpghy of a Female Body, by Sara Pascoe (Faber) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Bad Feminist, by  Roxanne Gay (Little, Brown) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Colour of Food: a Memoir of Life, Love and Dinner, by Anne Else (Awa) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Do It Like a Woman – and change the world, by Caroline Crido-Perez (Portobello)
Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner. Helen Garner is one of my favourite feminist essayists – whose feminism, and humanism, and personality inform everything she writes on every topic. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Fat is a feminist issue, by Susie Orbach. Orbach’s book made me see that, unless something was done urgently, what was going on around me would continue indefinitely. Highly motivating. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by Bell Hooks is a must. Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
cv_the_fictional_woman Fictional Woman, by Australian crime novelist Tara Moss. (HarperCollins)  This 2014 book focuses among other things on the under-representation of women in modern entertainment, media, advertising and politics. It was a #1 Nonfiction bestseller in Australia. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Fifty Shades of Feminism, edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach (Virago, 2013)
Published as a response to Fifty Shades of Grey – it is a brilliant collection of 50 stunning essays by a wide variety of feminists, young & old – and it has a grey cover! Recommended by Carole Beu
Fighting to Choose: the Abortion Rights Struggle in NZ, by Alison McCulloch (VUP) Recommended by Carole Beu.
• Freedom Train: The story of Harriet Tubman, by Dorothy Sterling.() I loved that Harriet Tubman, who herself escaped slavery and returned many times to help others escape, was short, not physically beautiful and plagued by narcolepsy. I knew the stakes were as big as could be and every time I read was stirred by the fact one woman, through cunning and cleverness and stubborness was responsible for life and death. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence, edited by Samantha Trenoweth (Hardie Grant) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Headscarves & Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson) Recommended by Carole Beu.
cv_how_to_be_a_womanHow to Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press). As she says: “We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
How to be Both, by Ali Smith. This is one of the loveliest novels I’ve read, about art, ambition, identity, and relationships including the relationship between a daughter and a mother. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
How to Win at Feminism (HarperCollins), the new book from the editors of the Reductress feminist satirical website, is another one we love. Never let it be said that feminists are a humourless bunch. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
cv_I_call_myself_a_feministI Call Myself a Feminist :The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty, edited by Victoria Pepe (Virago)
Virago followed Fifty Shades of Feminism up in 2015 with this great collection. Recommended by Carole Beu.
In Gratitude, by Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen)
A more controversial, alarming book, which may start arguments that are surely worth having. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Mary Anning’s Treasure, by Helen Bush. Like Harriet Tubman, Mary Anning was no beauty. She was gruff, proud, and as strong as a man. Once with an unexpected tide, she hoisted a woman across her shoulders and carried her to safety. I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up because of Mary Anning. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (Granta) Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Moranifesto , by Caitlin Moran (Ebury press)
Then there is the wonderful Caitlin Moran. She is the first of a whole range of young women who don’t give a stuff what people think of them. Recommended by Carole Beu and Anna Jackson, who says, “I find Caitlin Moran terrifically funny and magnificently sensible.”
cv_not_that_kind_of_girlNot That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are figures from popular culture whose frank and unapologetic feminism is completely central to their fame and genius. This was a huge bestseller. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Roll on the revolution . . . but not until after Xmas! : Selected Feminist Writing
A collection of years of feminist essays, many of them originally published in Broadsheet Magazine, from 95-year-old New Zealander Margot Roth, now living in Melbourne. The project was begun by the late great Pat Rosier (former Broadsheet editor) & has been completed by The Margot Collective (available from PDL, via Paul Greenberg). Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti (HarperCollins) , founder of Feministing and columnist/staff writer with The Guardian (US), is a confronting and forthright memoir about how she came to be a leading voice in third wave feminism. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (Quercus) Recommended by Carole Beu.
So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder (Scribe) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Speaking Out, by Tara Moss (HarperCollins). This is the follow up to Fictional Woman, and is a practical handbook for women and girls on speaking out safely and confidently in a world that marginalises them. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Scv_stuff_i_forgot_to_tell_my_daugthertuff I Forgot To Tell My Daughter, by Michele A’Court (HarperCollins). A’Court is one of NZ’s pre-eminent and funniest feminists. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (Text) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd and Anna Jackson, who says, “this is a brilliant mix of essay, memoir and lyric about the difficulty of negotiating parenthood, gender roles and relationship issues in a marriage with a transgender partner.”
The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) This brilliant novel looks at the career of a woman artist who devised an art project to expose the bias against women artists: she set up a young, male imposter to pretend to have made the art works she herself would produce, then reveal her identity; as she anticipated, there was an excitement around his work her own work had never generated even though this work was very much a development of her own ideas. What she didn’t anticipate is that he would claim the work as his own, and no one would believe it was hers, despite all the proof of her workings. It is a brilliant premise and the novel draws out the twists and turns of a gripping story brilliantly, but what is ultimately so moving about the novel is its complex representation of relationships between difficult people, and the difficulty of managing personal relationships alongside ambition. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy () I had no brother to save but, as the world revealed itself to me at 14 as ethically bereft and deeply women-hating, I realised I had my own personal and intergalactic crisis to deal with. There was only one thing for it. Hmm, thought I was a mere human? Pyeouw! Take that, patriarchy. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Fact of a Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich ()  Rich seemed to capture perfectly our own struggles in dealing with the horror of a world that seemed particularly violent towards women, and a desire, despite it all, to love, laugh and celebrate. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer (HarperCollins). This was published over 40 years ago and it’s never been out of print. It is still a go-to work about how 20th century western society was taking away women’s agency on so many levels. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer will certainly be just as big a smash as Lena Dunham’s book, if not bigger. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood () Recommended by Maria McMillan.
cv_unspeakable_ThingsUnspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, by Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury). This is the book that I’d recommend to get anyone fired up about feminism. Recommended by Kathryn Carmody.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4th Estate) Recommended by Carole Beu, Matthew Simpson, Tilly Lloyd. Matthew adds, “We should all be feminists is something every young woman and man should be afforded the chance to hear or read.”
Who was that Woman Anyway: Snapshots of a Lesbian Life, by Aorewa McLeod (VUP) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Why Science is Sexist, by Nicola Gaston (BWB Texts) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Witches: Salem 1692, by Stacy Schiff (Weidenfeld) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.

And some online recommendations, from Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Director:
I love On the Rag, The Spinoff’s podcast which is run by Alex Casey, who is writing some fantastic commentary on the representation of women in the media. The Spinoff is publishing a lot of good feminist writing. Alex will be at the festival of course, along with three other Spinoff editors.

I also recommend BUST, which isn’t widely available in New Zealand but which can be found online. It was started in the Riot Grrl era and has kept on going. When I first was introduced to it by my friend Gemma Gracewood, I found it incredibly refreshing and encouraging. So of course I had to take Gemma with me when I met with Debbie Stoller in New York – it was a wonderful meeting of minds.

Two feminist writers are visiting for WORD Christchurch in a week or so: Tara Moss, noted earlier; and Nadia Hashimi, whom Matthew Simpson says is “an Afghan-American novelist whose stories of the intimate lives and struggles of women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are imbued with a strong message of female solidarity across national and cultural divides.”

Tell us your favourite feminist reads below, and we’ll add them to the list.

Where are all the Boys in YA?

by Sue Esterman

Jo Hogan recently blogged about her concern about the reading habits (or lack thereof!) of her 15-year-old son. He had been a great reader from an early age, but when she took him to a YALC (YA Lit Con) event he was clearly disenchanted and pointed out that it was all about girls and women.

I am intrigued by this observation – it was no doubt true of that particular event.
But it started me thinking – is it really not about the boys? Not for the boys? My experience as a tertiary, public and school librarian over more than 40 years has given me much to observe.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - July 21: New Zealand Bookshop Day July 21, 2015 Unity Books in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/ http://mark tantrum.com)

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – July 21: New Zealand Bookshop Day July 21, 2015 Unity Books in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/ http://mark tantrum.com)

It’s true that many boys – sweeping generalisation alert!! – on the whole prefer to be actively engaged. However it’s not the corollary that we can’t engage them actively in reading for pleasure. It’s more of a challenge for some than for others. To redress that takes time and effort on the part of trusted and enthusiastic readers/role models/parents/teachers/librarians/sports heroes.

cv_into_the_riverIt’s also true that there is a vast body of material written for and about teenage readers. Equally true, that the range of what constitutes YA material is one of those perennial dilemmas – should we designate particular books as “for” a particular age group? This is something which has happened in relatively recent literary history.

When I was a kid, there were children’s books and adult’s books, but there was not anything directed at the teenage market per se. Small wonder then that now kids with access to electronic media 24/7, bombarded by Twitter, active on Reddit, constantly messaging – may find it harder to focus on a sedentary activity which requires full attention.

However I believe that many of our boys do just that. They learn to enjoy reading, to be successful at it, and to broaden their reading base by exploring genres, classics, graphic novels and poetry.

This does not come easily to a lot of boys. They need care and attention – and feeding! – as they cross the boundary between learning to read and becoming fluent readers. They need male role models – I think many of us underestimate just how important that is. Jo Hogan’s son clearly picked up on that at the YALC event. Although he was (and no doubt continues to be) an able and competent reader, he found it was all a bit girly.

I don’t agree that it’s not about the boys
cv_the_absolutely_true_diary_of_a_part-time_indianBecause I don’t agree that it’s not about the boys, I trawled through some website lists of the best YA novels – Time magazine’s top 100 for 2015 has 56 male authors. NPR’s list had 40 out of 100. The Telegraph (I was trying to get a UK perspective) has 9 out of 17 male authors listed in its top reads for 2016.

So clearly, there are many male writers who are among the most successful and most appealing to young male readers.

In New Zealand, there are some fantastic men working in school libraries, teaching English, blogging about books. It’s probably fair to say there are far fewer men than women, however. I guess this is probably true of most western education systems. But it does not necessarily equate to “it being all about the girls”.

My experience in working with boys is that you do have to work harder to find what is appealing. Quirky novels, things that come out of left field a bit, things which resonate with an individual reader – any of these can make a huge difference to a boy who is finding it hard to find the right book. And often it’s that connection between reader and book, right book at the right time, which can help that transition. And yes, it’s important to promote the really good books to our boys. Peer recommendations are a real help here.

cv_the_10pm_questionBut there’s another point this young man made – he said that “YA is not a genre, it’s a marketing tool”. He is spot on with that observation, in my opinion. What appeals to teenage boys is not necessarily what has been written with them in mind – and of course there are exceptions! But my personal opinion is that the best writing for young people is not necessarily the result of an author “writing YA books” – it comes from writers who tell a good story, with great characters and a good plot. Good writing transcends artificial age boundaries and stereotypes, and draws the reader in.

I think that Jo Hogan should be reassured that the boys are reading, at least in New Zealand. And that her son is also right when he says that his mates don’t read much – in the middle of secondary school years, there is little time for reading for pleasure unless it’s a top priority.

But I know many young men who do read for pleasure, regardless of where they are at in their education. They may not read what parents or teachers think they SHOULD read, but at least they are reading. And that, after all, is what matters.

Sue Esterman was the Director of Library & Information Services at Scots College in Wellington until 2015. 

Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, Live in Wellington

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Photo of Sarah Kay, by Darlene Toclo

As an event organised by Wellington’s Poetry in Motion, the evening began with some of our very own New Zealand poets. A series of slam favourites warmed up the stage before our very own Ali Jacs, the founder of Poetry in Motion herself, took the stage. Paired with the beautiful venue—the wonderful arches and stained glass windows of Old St Paul’s—the whole evening was already beginning to feel magical.

Sarah Kay (right) and Phil Kaye were then brought up onto stage to the sound of applause. For Sarah, it’s her first time in New Zealand and her bright voice exclaims how “everyone in New Zealand is so chill” compared to her hometown of New York. For Phil, this is his second visit to New Zealand after four years. He explained how he met Ali Jacs; it becomes evident that this mutual love for poetry is what connects people together and allows poets like Sarah and Phil to travel all the way to Wellington. The two then work as a pair for the rest of the show, delivering duet pieces in between their own solo poems, and presenting spoken word that is both heartbreaking and humorous.

One of my favourite poems they performed together was An Origin Story, a piece that explains the strange coincidences and circumstances that brought Sarah and Phil together. The two have no blood relation despite the similarity of their last names and other parallels that they unfold throughout the poem. The synchronisation of their delivery made the performance a delight to watch live, even after hearing it so many times online.

Sarah was just as bright and brilliant as she is in these videos. After switching places with Phil, she implores the audience, “make some noise if you’ve ever been in love!” Laughing with the uproar, she explains that it’s her way of gauging the make-up of the audience, telling us how university students yell like “love is their favourite sports team”. One of the poems she launches into next is a new piece from her recently released book The Type, bringing some new material into the mix.

Phil’s delivery of his poem Repetition was especially heart wrenching, portraying a child stuck with a stutter. This is an irony recognised by Phil; he describes himself as an “injured handyman” who works with words. The pauses he takes in between stanzas are perfect, giving the audience just enough time to reflect on what has just been spoken before building up the story and moving onto another image, another piece of dialogue.

Their last duet poem is When Love Arrives. It is a beautiful piece where, in succession, the two offer up wonderful musings on love, describing both its perfection and imperfection. Love is something bittersweet but ultimately worth it; it is a beautiful end to an evening of local poets and two very special poets from afar, who have come all the way to New Zealand to share their words.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

For more spoken word in Wellington, Poetry In Motion holds events at 7:30pm on the first Wednesday of every month at Meow on Edward Street.

Sarah Kay’s website
Phil Kay’s website

The Diversity Debate: Victor Rodger, Marlon James & Stephanie Johnson at #AWF16

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This was my last session of the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival and it was a really lively note to end on. Paula Morris chaired a panel debate on diversity with Victor Rodger, Marlon James and Stephanie Johnson that addressed important issues with good humour, energy and intellectual rigour.

pp_victor_rodgerRodger (right) is a Kiwi-Samoan playwright and screenwriter who has worked on Shortland Street, where he was always the only Pacific Islander in the writing room. He says nothing will change until there is diversity at the top levels of management. “Three of my least favourite words are level, playing, and field.” He agrees that NZ literature is too white: Pacific Island writers embrace poetry and film, but not novels so much. Rodger also sees problems with white writers creating Māori and Pacific Island characters, and in the ways these works are reviewed: “I see a lot of free passes being given across all art forms”. He told the story of a play he wrote that was criticised by a Pākehā reviewer for not having enough swearing in it: they hadn’t realised the swearing was all in Samoan.

marlon_jamesJames is a Jamaican novelist living in the US who recently won the Man Booker Prize. On the subject of writing ‘the other’ (although he has problems with that term), he says he encourages his creative writing students to do the work and try it: “90% of you are going to fail but do it anyway”. He said wryly that he’d recently given up appearing on diversity panels and is sick of talking about identity. He doesn’t like the word ‘diversity’ because it has no emotional weight. It’s like ‘tolerance’. We need to move beyond just having multiculturalism to loving it: “diversity is a sign you’re doing something right … diversity is an outcome we mistake for a goal”.

Morris brought up the problem NZ writers have of trying to get their work read overseas, and this led to an interesting discussion of whether to make the setting of one’s work as generic as possible, in order to attract an international audience. Rodger said “the more specific we make our writing, the more universal it is”.

stephanie_johnsonJohnson (right) is a Pākehā writer and founding trustee of the Auckland Writers Festival. On the topic of reviewing, she said “the reviewing situation in New Zealand is diabolical and getting worse”, with reviewers being paid so little and space for book reviewing in mainstream media shrinking. I think there are signs of hope, though – I was reminded of Giovanni Tiso in the Column Inches session talking about how blogs are taking up the arts criticism slack (see the Booksellers NZ list of NZ book blogs). And in How To Review A Book, David Eggleton reminded us that Landfall and Landfall Review Online (which he edits) pay their writers, and invited everyone to send him their reviews.

The award for Best Audience Question has to go to a man who approached the mic at the end of the panel discussion and said, “I’m a gay disabled polyamorous white man – you may have to google that … why in 2016 is a panel on diversity so narrow in content?” Riotous applause. Morris acknowledged his excellent point, saying they could easily have had a diversity panel discussion every day of the festival focusing on different aspects.

After the session ended I felt a little lost. It was my fifth Auckland Writers Festival session in a row that day, and now all of a sudden it was over. I hung about a bit and chatted to some booksellers and festival staff. Sales of both tickets and books had been really strong (hooray!). Everyone looked tired and happy. People had met their heroes, stumbled across works of genius, heard extraordinary ideas spoken and sung to them. Questions has been asked and answered, persuasive conversations had changed the shape of people’s minds. We had stood in queues and smiled at each other.

So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make the festival happen (and kia ora to Rachel who runs the AWF Twitter!). Thank you to all the writers and artists and speakers. Thank you to my fellow reviewers, in particular my editor Sarah Forster. Thank you to David Eggleton for his How To Review A Book session, which helped me think about my own reviewing in a more nuanced way. And a special thank you to David Larsen, who attended more AWF sessions than I thought it was possible for one human to handle. (“You don’t need a break! Come on, stay for Paul Muldoon!”) It was a pleasure to sit with him in the middle of the front row, and an honour to have all those conversations between sessions on what had just happened and what we thought about it. Steve Braunias called Larsen’s column on day one of AWF , Drunk on Information, the greatest writers festival blog he’d ever read. I think there might just be a bit of hope for professional arts criticism in Aotearoa after all.

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage
www.elizabethheritage.co.nz
Here on Twitter.

Check out the other reviews by Elizabeth, Claire Mabey, Matthias Metzler and Felicity Murray (and myself) of sessions during the 2016 Auckland Writers Festival.