Shifting Points of View: Things that Matter, and Fight Like a Girl

Emma Johnson attended these sessions at WORD Christchurch’s Shifting Points of View season on behalf of Booksellers NZ. All books mentioned are listed at the bottom of the page, and available from booksellers nationwide.

To the victor, history. To the dominant culture, the narrative. Under the dense coverage of those tales, others remain hidden. In the Shifting Points of View series, which WORD Christchurch is presenting as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival, other perspectives are brought to the fore for us to consider. The centre of the story moves – a centrifugal force of discussion spins us around to look outwards, to see things differently, to consider others, to empathise. Or even to act.

Set within the context of this age of efficiencies and disconnection, two very different sessions called for us to move beyond the insular to more connection – in the Galler session, as a means to change our modern healthcare system and in the Ford session, to counter both the furious eddies of misogyny online and perhaps the more pernicious ‘everyday’ sexism.

Things that Matter: Dave Galler and Glenn Colquhoun in discussion
GallerColqhoun-photoFine words, ‘nuggets’ of experience, and two medicine men came together on Saturday 2 September in an eloquent affirmation of humanity at the sold-out ‘Things That Matter’ session. Dave Galler, an intensive care specialist at Middlemore Hospital, wrote the book after which the session took its name, which sets out to demystify healthcare and encourage patients to play a greater role in decision-making. Here in conversation with Glen Colquhoun, a poet and GP, he called for a rethink of the modern healthcare system by widening the frame of reference.

Asked to consider how his growing up in Jewish culture in New Zealand informed his medicine, Dave was cautious in seeking cause for effect. His mother, an Auschwitz survivor, married his father in Israel, and they immigrated in the 1950s – leaving behind something that they wanted to forget, which pushed their children into assimilation; the celebration of Jewish culture was to come later. He traces his belief in medicine’s need for kindness to his parents’ profound warmth, in spite of their experiences. The Jewish traditions of scholarship, healthy debate and the expectation that your view will be challenged are apparent in his role as a natural advocate for change.

Recognising the interconnectedness of social systems and myriad factors that come together to express themselves in illness in Aotearoa, both Glen and Dave advocated for a holistic perspective and a need to look beyond the nexus of doctor and patient – both as a means to better identify the health system’s failings and to ensure its improvement. Glen put the questions on the table: ‘Is it the role of doctors to be political? Where does the duty of care extend to?’ As a GP, he sees the social causes of disease every day. Dave pointed to North American first nations people, and to Māori, as having the broader perspective that could vastly improve modern health care – one that is inclusive of spiritual wellbeing, of whanau, and of community. And having a purpose.

Our focus on technology and the body leads us to overlook other elements that are fundamental to our wellbeing. And this can be critical. ‘Those that recover in intensive care – whether they recover is determined by many things, but is heavily weighted in who they are.’ He also illuminated the broader costs of a healthcare system with a singular focus – those of lost opportunity and potential for many in deprivation, ‘the environmental equivalent would be our rivers’. He gave an example of a 19-year-old patient who had contracted pneumonia early on in life due to bad housing, who arrived at the ICU with an illness that would have given most people nothing more than a runny nose. Here he was on death’s door (thankfully he recovered). He was on oxygen at home – his life restricted, because of a bad start in life.

So, what do we need to do? Glen and Dave were in agreement. Start by moving beyond the ‘efficiencies’ of 35-patient rounds at the hospital and ten-minute doctor visits. Start rewarding kindness and empathy, because fundamentally medicine is about people. Create a system that rewards these values, that allows doctors to build up a body of knowledge and a broader awareness of community and family situations – these could save time later on. At the very least we need an honest sizing up of the need, and an acknowledgment that we do not have the resources to meet this.

Dave also called for a sense of purpose, because it gives you a way ‘to marshal your resources’, and then align policies across seemingly competing interests – ‘so that they do not cancel each other out’. His call to action was unequivocal: ‘We’ve got to demand this. If you wait for the government to solve your problems, you’ll be waiting a long time.’

In health, it is ‘values, empathy and kindness’ that we need more of. Connecting the parts to make a better functioning whole; shining the light on the bigger picture.

Clementine Ford: Fight Like a Girl

clem-photobook.pngBut sometimes shining the light on the smaller parts of a system is just as important. The formidable and funny Clementine Ford, journalist and feminist writer, called for this as a means to make visible seemingly innocuous systemic sexism, and as a means to undermine it.

Her book Fight Like A Girl looks to address the imbalance of power between the sexes, by taking power, because asking nicely won’t affect the system. And as in any power dynamic, the imbalance is benefiting one group – so men need to give up some of theirs. Her critiques, arguments and journalism have been dismissed (to put it kindly) by ‘men’s rights activists’ as ‘degrading to men’.

But this is exactly the crux of her point – this preoccupation with how men feel about feminism needs to go; they have been hogging the light for too long. In her second sold-out session at SPOV, she used ‘Hate Male’ – the deluge of abusive messages she has received over the years –  to ground her talk on the need to place women firmly at the centre of the feminist story. Unapologetic and unwavering, Clementine calls for us all to stop relating the discourse to men: there is no need to reward them for engaging in the dialogue, as it should not be about them.

The Hate Male collection aptly illustrated her point that women’s increasing agency is being met with a wave of vitriol in some places, most often by men who feel their worldview is threatened. Hardened, reactive stances emanate from behind the safety of their screens. The messages Clementine has received reveal that the current of misogyny runs thick and that there is a profound disconnect in this online world; but it also gives an opportunity to galvanize, for feminists to connect and to respond to these men with humour ‘by taking the rug out from under them’ in a very public forum. Clementine used humour extensively and extremely effectively to turn the tables on the abuse, draining it of its power.

cleminactionMany of these ‘men’s rights activists’ abuse her for getting upset about words – the old ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ is often lobbied in her direction. Yet, as she astutely points out, their words come in response to her words, ‘So who is really the oversensitive one?’

What is in a word then? The use of certain words aligns those who use them with a power structure and a rape culture, and other words empower others to stand up and call it out. Clementine calls for society to stop excusing behaviour and insults – the minimising tactics were seen here with the ‘boys will be boys’ approach to the Roast Busters. When the narrative makes such instances seem small or insignificant, it forms part of the cultural scaffolding that has made this okay, in service to patriarchy and rape culture (where those of privilege are not punished when it could impact their future potential).

It all starts on the small scale, an incremental chipping away at the power structure. Clementine furnished the audience with tips to combat this subtle, systemic sexism, which can be much harder to challenge than the ‘big ticket items’. When faced with a sexist joke, ask someone to repeat it several times or to explain why it’s funny. This shifts the spotlight onto them, and the onus to justify it.

Both sessions opened up new perspectives and possibilities to act. Both called for us to look beyond ourselves. Too often there is a tendency to place the self at the centre in the insular modern experience. But people like Clementine Ford, Dave Galler and Glen Colquhoun breathe life into the promise of empathy.

Attended and Reviewed by Emma Johnson on behalf of Booksellers NZ.

Things That Matter
by David Galler
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781877505645

Late Love: A BWB Text
by Glenn Colquhoun
Published by BWB
ISBN 9780947492892

Fight Like a Girl
by Clementine Ford
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760292362

Advertisements

WORD: Making it Overseas, with Ben Sanders, Tania Roxborogh and Helen Lowe

Event_Making-it-OverseasAll New Zealand authors dream of making it overseas – these three have. Tania Roxborogh has her historical novel (set in the time of Macbeth) Banquo’s Son in the UK, USA and Asia. Ben Sanders is Auckland-based, and his fourth novel, American Blood, is in the Australian, NZ, US and European markets. Helen Lowe is Christchurch-based, and all of her fantasy books have been published overseas, rather than in New Zealand. They are in the USA, UK, Australia and NZ and European markets.

Lowe was told straight out of the gates, that nobody in New Zealand would publish a fantasy series. After trying to sell her series to publishers in Australia and the USA herself, she gave up (she stopped counting rejections after 15) and realised a full series from an unknown author was too much of a gamble for any publisher to take at that point. She needed to write a stand-alone book. An Australian editor she had spoken to with her series advised her that she should try the US market, and find an agent. In response to a later question about how she found her agent she said – I looked at who the writers who wrote in my genre used: this triangulated at The Writer’s House, so that’s where I started and lucked out. Her new agent sold Thornspell in just three weeks, and the series sold after that, after about 4-5 months. Being published in the US opened up the world.

I had seen Ben Sanders’ rise over the past couple of years and thought he must have just been plucked from obscurity when Warner Brothers saw the unpublished manuscript of American Blood and optioned it. Oh no, it was a bit deeper than that! He had an agent offer to represent him after his first three books were published through HarperCollins NZ, and checked them out before accepting (note to readers: if somebody is offering to sell your book, always check them out first). His agent is through Wordlink. It took three years to get a book accepted, and happened mainly because he met an editor at Pan Macmillan personally while on holiday in New York. He had to set this book in America – hence American Blood, which was published last year in the US.

It took Tania Roxborogh seven years to be an overnight success. Her super-enthusiastic agent came on board in May 2009. It took until October 2014 to have any luck placing the novel with a publisher: by 10 January in 2015 she had a contract, with an advance of $10,000 US. It took a lot of persistence, and a lot of trust on both her agent’s and her part; but she got there!

Things she has learned: the Australian market is more accepting if NZ writers come via the UK publishing houses. And the sales are so much bigger than the NZ market: by the end of its run in 2015, Banquo’s Son had sold 5,600 copies. Internationally within 2 months in the UK market, 9,500 copies had sold. Vanda quipped, “You have finally harnessed the machine.”

All three of our guests have found having an agent essential, though none have experienced the ‘dream agent’ experience. The most helpful things with agents is they know what is being pitched, and they know what is being published by whom. Sanders said his agent was essential to get him contacts in New York. “Having an agent is like any business relationship, you have to go into it with your eyes open”, says Helen Lowe.

Vanda then asked whether being an author from a small country was an impediment to being published overseas. Not really, was the general agreement. Sanders’ Auckland crime novels weren’t picked up internationally until he agreed to ‘Americanise’ them. He is currently doing this, changing ‘petrol stations’ for ‘gas stations’, and the bonus of this is that he can change any errors he finds along the way. Sanders adds, “It’s not just a matter of if the editor says ‘yep I like it’ – that person needs to talk to the Editorial Director, and so on all the way up the commissioning chain.”

For Helen Lowe, she never had to worry about where they are set: she writes Fantasy, set in different worlds. And Thornspell was set in Middle-ish Europe. The US doesn’t even change the language in her books, they just change the spelling. Her UK publisher simply publishes it, US spelling and all, knowing their market doesn’t mind.

Lowe also addressed the idea of self-publication in the Fantasy genre. She thinks this only really works if you already famous: the main thing traditional publishing has over self-publishing is distribution. “And if you are doing it yourself, you will be locked into Amazon’s rights model, possibly not in favourable circumstances.”

This was a fascinating discussion, about something I’d long been curious about. In my day job at Booksellers NZ, I frequently post up announcements about the sales of US / UK rights: now I understand exactly why this is such a fantastic achievement for those hard-working authors that it happens to. Well done to Helen Lowe, Ben Sanders and Tania Roxborogh for being Olympic-class writers!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Making it Overseas – Ben Sanders, Helen Lowe and Tania Roxborogh

Daughter of Blood
by Helen Lowe
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356500058

Thornspell
by Helen Lowe
Published by Random House
ISBN 9780375844799

American Blood
by Ben Sanders
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760291570

Banquo’s Son
by Tania Roxborogh
Published by Thomas & Mercer
ISBN 9781503945821

WORD: How to be a Writer, with Steve Hely

Event_How-to-be-a-Writer-Steve-HelySteve Hely is a comedic writer from the USA. He has written for many great TV shows, and his TV writing and how he got into this was the focus of the first part of this talk. First up, Hely apologises to all those in the audience who thought this was about how to be a writer, and takes the blame for the odd title (it was meant to be named after his novel How I Became a Famous Novelist.’

I’ll admit I was struggling by this point of the day. I really ought to have had a coffee before going into this session, but due to a quick turn-around, that was too hard. My miasma of tiredness wasn’t helped by the in-crowd angle Toby Manhire took during part of this interview. I have been enjoying each of the USA writers’ views on Trump and American politics however, and I’d recommend going along to The State Of America at 12.30pm here at The Piano.

Hely’s writing credits include the David Letterman Show, American Dad, 30 Rock, and Veep. He has also published the title named earlier, plus travel book The Wonder Trail. He wanted to be a TV writer from very young, and deliberately went to Harvard (after some of his favourite writers) so he could work at the Harvard Lampoon magazine. After college, he pitched his writing to Letterman, didn’t hear anything for months, moved to LA in the meantime, then to New York when he got the job.

The writing process for Letterman: “You got there and were told what the pitch was for that day. You’d pick a topic then you’d write jokes for it, then write some skits for the opening set piece.  You were in a box writing on your typewriter.” When he moved to comedy writing though, it became more collaborative – TV writers are aware that 1 + 1 = more than 2.The style of the writing room depends on the personality of the show-runner. “Sometimes they touch everything themselves, sometimes they delegate and let others deal with it.”

Hely was dubious about the idea of a US version of The Office, but by the time he came in as a writer it was through to its 7th season: there ended up being around 250 episodes of US The Office, compared to about 12 in the UK. In this writing group, writers were often transitioned to become actors, quite deliberately – to give them a sense of what they are doing.

They moved on then to talk about his books. Hely says, “It is helpful as a writer to be able to split your personality into different characters.” One of the reasons he wanted to be a novelist was to be invited to literary festivals. The theme of How I became a famous novelist was how much you could get away with, when pretending to be a writer. “I wanted to explore the line between being genuine and being a poser.” Hely also wanted to explore the difference between mass-market and literary fiction – he is interested in who we give literary awards to, and why.

While on hiatus from TV writing, he took a trip around Central and South America. He had pitched this to publishers before leaving, and when he was part-way through his agent sold the book: so then he had to write it. “I like to break my routine by travelling, and talking to strangers, and working out a new country. New Zealand has a culture of this, but I have encountered a lot of Americans who have never considered travelling. “

Trump

Hely attended the Republican Convention: “It was so tin pot, cheap, dictatorial, fascist and I hated to see it in the United States. Donald Trump is barf – US got so disgusted with the political system that they threw Trump up. Those who weren’t part of the the machine threw this up.” The only funny part of it was when Ted Cruz – “another despicable individual” – refused to endorse Trump. But as soon as Trump started talking he thought “No. We need to shut this down.”

One of the audience members asked whether it was getting harder to write political satire, given Trump is doing this himself? “The fact satire is being outpaced by reality is a problem.” It is, he says, hard to make fun of this guy who changes his mind at every turn. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that comedy’s job is to change people’s minds. The real value of it is making you feel less insane. It’s helpful to make people understand they aren’t alone.”

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

How to be a Writer, with Steve Hely

Steve Hely is also at:

The State of America, Sun 28 Aug, 12.30pm

 

WORD: Bloomsbury South, by Peter Simpson, interviewed by Paul Millar

cv_bloomsbury_southThe publication of Bloomsbury South is an important event for the arts community of Christchurch. It tied together the many artistic genres and people who were based in Christchurch from 1933-53.

Peter Millar led an interesting hour of questions and reflections with the author, Peter Simpson. Millar described the book as “a beautiful object in its own right”. This comment arose from the way that images, headings and original documents have been used to create a superb reading of this period in the artistic history of New Zealand. He described it as a book which gives equal weight to text and images.

Peter Simpson recalled the time 15 years ago when he first realised the connections between the creative blossoming in Bloomsbury, London post-WW1 and what happened in Christchurch. In the intervening years he has written about many of the artists as individuals, but it was a much grander idea to bring them together in this book. He talked us through the chapters and grouping these in pre-war, war, and post-war. Then the different genres became a focus within these chapters. “Once I settled on this plan, I stuck to it”.

Simpson talked to us about the importance of a physical space for these artists to meet. 97 Cambridge Terrace was owned by artist Sydney Lough Thompson, but he rented out studio rooms to the arts community. This provided an intellectual, political and artistic home for an ever widening group.

Institutions such as the Caxton Press and the University provided support for the group. The Depression also played a pivotal part in developing an awareness of the struggles many New Zealanders faced. While most of the artists came from middle class homes, it was as Special Constables, recruited from the university, that they met the desperate face of real people. Certainly, Denis Glover’s biographer felt that the experience had a profound effect on Glover. Paul Millar likened this to the creative response generated post-quake in Christchurch. As the depression was a catalyst for the Bloomsbury South group, so the Christchurch earthquakes have provided an urgency in artistic response.

Ursula  Bethell’s role as a Mother Superior to the young male writers was a discovery which surprised Simpson. The general thought was that she ceased writing in 1934 and her influence stopped. His meticulous reading of the private correspondence of the artists, allowed him to trace connections and influences. Some, like Angus to Lilburn, wrote 2 or 3 times a week across the same city. He found this an invaluable resource and one which still offers unfound insights.

There was so much to celebrate in this event. Peter Simpson was the right man to write this book with an already extensive knowledge of these artists as individuals. But it was his vision to draw them together in these pages, and engage us in this story. He gave credit to his publisher, Auckland University Press, and in particular to Katrina Duncan, who superbly married text and image.

I had my copy of Bloomsbury South to be signed and when asked by my seat mate what I thought, I replied that I loved every page. I found him with a copy at the after match. ” I was tossing up, but your comments convinced me”. I know he will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bloomsbury South, by Peter Simpson, interviewed by Paul Millar

Bloomsbury South: The arts in Christchurch 1933-53
by Peter Simpson
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408480

WORD: The Margaret Mahy Lecture, given by David Levithan

This was a really special experience. I will move mountains to come to all future Margaret Mahy lectures. I’ll admit that the concept of a named lecture often gives me doubts, but I have read Levithan, and I knew I did not want to miss what he had to say.

Kate De Goldi gave the introduction, saying ever since his first novel Boy Meets Boy, “he has energetically reimagined queer experience.” Levithan has now written, edited, and anthologised more than 20 books. “He has peopled the YA stage with self-aware, thoughtful, engaged teenagers.” The highlight of his books for De Goldi is the concept that we are at our best in relationship to one another: change comes only from connectivity. As well as writing his own books, he is a publisher and editorial director at Scholastic US.

Event_Margaret-Mahy-Memorial-Lecture-David-Levithan-1He opened his talk by speaking briefly to the Orlando shooting: “What do we do in response? We raise our voices not singing, but shouting. Not shouting, but telling stories. We must look for people who don’t get to speak, and make their stories part of the collective story.”

Levithan re-read Margaret Mahy’s Memory in preparation for this talk. He was delighted to find that it is still as profound as he remembered it. He took us through one paragraph, about Johnny five years after his sister’s death, which expertly delves into the teenage mind, the mind in hurt and pain and turmoil, which manifests in indifference to his self. He says:

It’s ridiculous to think you can go through the world indifferent to it. I don’t believe in the word ‘apolitical’: if you are absenting yourself, that is a political act. That will make you feel hollow. The cure that literature can offer – the hope that we can give, is empathy. That is the panacaea. Literature can teach you that other people are people too. That is why we become so invested in telling the stories of others alongside ours. We believe in sharing other voices. That, to us, feels like engagement. The device of a book is to take you into that other world.

From the phrase from Memory: ‘It was disconcerting for Johnny that imaginary things can grow, as lucid as if they were true.’

Levithan seized here on the notion of ‘proper imagination.’ The power of the imagination can make things become real. Levithan wrote Boy Meets Boy as an editor, this was the book he wanted to exist. “Before this, all gay characters in novels were under a threat. To make this book shouldn’t have been a radical notion: but it was. And that was why it was important. The characters in the book weren’t defined by who they loved. That space in the pages made it feel like that space existed in the world. That effect, that is what a book can do.”

He carried on – I was typing more or less verbatim: “When you are reading a book, you are bringing yourself into the book. That is a powerful thing – understanding your empathy toward the people. That’s why our literature lives, and breathes, and grows.”

The next sentence: ‘He had always been the victim of stories, not only others but his own as well.’

Levithan says, “I didn’t grow up seeing myself in literature. The way to change this is to write. It is ignorance and indifference to think that stories aren’t at war all around you. We don’t have control of others’ stories, but as those things go wrong, we have control of our own stories.”

Every person Levithan has met since being in Christchurch has told him where they were when the earthquakes happened. This is a way of people gaining control over their own stories: it didn’t only happen to us, it was part of our story.

“Writers of YA literature need to include as many stories as possible. There is a benefit in that YA literature doesn’t need to overthrow eons of history – it has only existed for around 50 years. YA authors need to keep an ear out for stories that aren’t being told. That is part of their mission.” He noted that this isn’t something YA authors do in isolation: they get power through it, but they are nothing without the bloggers, the librarians, the teachers, overcoming condescension against YA literature. “We just need to not care if the cricics are condescending. We understand the power our words have.”

You Give Them Words
Levithan gives a lot of anti-censorship talks, and been on a lot of anti-censorship panels. He has heard stories of writers being pulled into a principal’s office and told ‘you can’t read your book here, or I’ll lose my job.’ His response is: “What is the point of keeping your job if you aren’t going to do your job.” He doesn’t know a teacher who went into teaching without wanting to teach kids things: librarians want to put books into kids’ hands. Parents want to teach their children. “Why do we have to keep fighting for things that are clearly basic equality?”

This part of the narration is abridged, and I sincerely hope that this will be published in full one day. Here is part of his talk called ‘You Give them Words.’

You are here for the inquisitive and the ignored. You are here because of your passion for people: to give them words… the truth is electricity to power them. You know that some of them struggle to rise against the power of their own thoughts. Some only feel their own isolation. Words can take you out of the band that believes in closed borders and closed minds. You give them words to know that all human beings were created equal. You give them words to show them the context. To bring out the meaning. If they do not know who they are, you give them words.

By learning the ways other people have told stories, you learn to tell your own. By telling our own, we become free. You have chosen this path not because it is easy, but because it matters. Thank you for leading us to the truth. Thank you for encouraging when you are not obligated to encourage.

Levithan went on to say: “The important thing is the readers. I am baffled when people talk about books as their own entity. As long asa book matters to a reader, it doesn’t matter where it is in relation to other books. The book is written to matter to a reader: no matter their age. That is what we pour into the book. We need this wonderful conspiracy of teachers, writers, readers etc – to give these kids don’t have access to the books they need.

Jane Higgins asked Levithan a question from the audience about hope in YA literature. He says, “Most YA authors have an ability to change things: the stories don’t have to reflect that hope, it’s not a requirement. I find more hope in a book where it tells you the way out of a problem: most will point towards how to make things better.” Even when things look bleak, you trust the reader to see the larger world and see how to stop the ultimate ending happening. You are hoping the reader gets angry, rather than giving up. His example was M T Anderson’s Feed, which is “scarily prophetic about our dependence on technology.”

I hope you have gained a flavour of this session, through my use of Levithan’s words. Please do read his books, and do your best to see him when he appears again tomorrow.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Margaret Mahy Lecture
9.30am – 10.30am, Saturday 27 August

Boy Meets Boy
by David Levithan
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780007533039

Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan
Text Publishing
9781922147486

most recent:
You Know me Well
by Nina Lacour and David Levithan
Text Publishing
9781925355529

 

 

 

WORD: Busted – feminism and Pop Culture, with Debbie Stoller and Charlotte Graham

Event_Busted-Feminism-and-Pop-CultureSome days are better than others for being a feminist. Today, so far, is a good day.

I started my WORD Saturday with Busted; Charlotte Graham interviewing Debbie Stoller, editor in chief of US feminist magazine Bust. The art gallery theatre was full of people – mostly women – I assume mostly feminists – keen to hear her talk.

Bust magazine has recently celebrated its 100th issue. Stoller says they were often not sure there would even be a next issue. “There’s not a lot of money in feminism, and I often do feel like I’m in the feminism business … We have to pull ourselves up by our bra straps every day.” Funding is a constant issue. Selling ads on the website doesn’t work; Bust has to be supported by readers subscribing to the print magazine in order to survive. “Hopefully print will come back like vinyl.”

Stoller spoke about the way in which women raised on feminism “felt like we were trying to cut our way through the jungle” in terms of finding a way forward in life. “Bridget Jones’ Diary was a revelation, the way it depicted the life of a single 30yo woman.” She and her colleagues started Bust because they wanted to create a mainstream women’s magazine that didn’t make women hate themselves. “Men’s mags were about the pleasure and the power of being male”, so where were the magazines that made women feel good?

Stoller is also known for re-embracing traditionally feminine arts such as knitting, and has written a series of ‘Stitch & Bitch’ books. She says “Martha Stewart is one of my three top feminists” (the other two being Madonna and Courtney Love). Domestic art can be something you do for yourself. But why, as women, when we read about Martha Stewart, do we immediately put pressure on ourselves to do that too? There’s this presentation of perfection followed by a feeling that we have to achieve that too. Is there an equivalent in male culture, asks Stoller? And if not, why not?

Stoller spoke about the ways that, even though young women these days are not reading as many magazines, they’re still getting the same messages of body hatred and the pressure to perform constant perfection from social media: “No one instagrams how well their toenail polish matches the cat vomit”. She spoke about the way feminism in the 1970s classed housework as drudgery, but then women got into the workforce and found that a lot of that was drudgery too. The difference is that paid work is more highly valued, both in terms of money and appreciation. But with Pinterest etc., “private work becomes public”, and can transform domestic work into something publicly and immediately appreciated by others. “I feel that I should have a Pinterest-worthy life.”

Stoller says that the issue of feminism and choice is very difficult. If a women chooses to, for example, surgically enhance her breasts or shave her vulva, is that a feminist action? Stoller pointed out that “women can make choices that help sustain sexism too”, and that “it can makes you feel better in a sexist society to just go along” with the prevailing mode. Just because it’s a woman making the choice doesn’t necessarily make it a feminist action.

The thing that struck me most was when Stoller said “always question how things are assigned value and importance”. She pointed out that things that come out of male culture (like sports) tend to be immediately valued, whereas those that come from female culture (like fashion) are constantly put down. “Why is playing soccer so much more important than being a weaver?”

Stoller pointed to the abuse US actor Lesley Jones has recently received as an example of the sexism and racism still active in our society. “It’s a really important moment … Solutions start with awareness and acknowledging of the problems … Mainstream media is site of change and power now, not politics.” She has hope that the world can change for the better.

I’m finding that that hope, tempered with pragmatism, is emerging as a common theme across WORD Christchurch 2016 – particularly in the 2050 session yesterday discussing climate chaos. We should have hope for the future, contingent upon us all pitching in to help to make that change happen. Something for us all to consider.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Busted: Feminism and Pop Culture
Debbie Stoller interviewed by Charlotte Graham

Debbie Stoller will also appear in:
The Sunday Fringe – How to Start a Magazine, Sun 28 Aug, 10am

 

 

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