The Auckland Writers Festival returns again from May 11-16, for six days of live events, performances, theatre, art and more. We talked to Festival Director Anne O'Brien about what she's most looking forward to this year, what last year's turn of events taught them and what audiences can expect. 

Auckland Writers Festival returns from May 11 this year. What can audiences expect in 2021? 

Audiences can expect a full Festival at the high levels of quality for which we have become internationally renowned. More than 170 events across multiple formats including conversations, readings, presentations, performances (including two major theatre productions), workshops with more than 200 writers from NZ and overseas. It will be expansive, substantive and invigorating with a wide range of subject matter to ensure that there is something for everyone.

What are you looking forward to bringing to audiences most this year?

I’m excited about delivering a festival to a live audience in a venue at the Aotea Centre. There is nothing like the festival experience and writers, audience and the AWF team missed out on the incredible experience of being amongst thousands of other Festival goers enjoying the conversations, the ambience and the writing work. It’s something we are all hankering after.

What gets you excited, as a festival attendee?  

The beauty of a festival is that it’s the overall experience with all its moving parts that creates the impact so being at the festival with all those choices is the thing I would look forward to. And we often find that the experiences that stick with the audience the most are the surprises – the sessions they didn’t know anything about and/or attending on a whim so we would encourage everyone to bring an open mind and an adventurous spirit to get the most out of it.

Do you have any predictions of what will be the most popular event, or events?

In ten years I’ve learnt that there is something in the festival for everyone and what excites you will not be the same as what excites someone else. That said obviously we have writers with strong name recognition such as Neil Gaiman, Kazuo Ishiguro, Patricia Grace, Ai Weiwei, Moana Maniapoto, Sue Kedgley, Witi Ihimaera, Dick Frizzell, Jane Ussher, Marlon Williams and Monique Fiso who will lead what we anticipate will  be across-the-board engagement; as well as special events like Blindness which breakdown the border lock.

The festival attendance in recent years keeps growing. Why do you think Aucklanders love the festival so much?

I think they appreciate the high quality of programme curation and the extensive range of subject matter for which we have become internationally renowned; the opportunity to engage in public discourse and immerse oneself in stories, ideas and conversations; the attendance experience which is highly invigorating and addictive; and the chance to connect with writers and each other in a meaningful way.

What's are some books that you've recommended to others recently? 

Women Talking by Miriam Toews (and her All My Puny Sorrows), Monogamy by Sue Millar, Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway, The Disinvent Movement by Susanna Gendall, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Girl Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo, Know My Name by Chanel Miller and Lying Awake by Mark Salzman.


See the programme for Auckland Writers Festival here. 

Last updated: 22 March 2021

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