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Young literary talent shines at Victoria Uni

Young literary talent shines at Victoria University

New Zealand's future young writers will rub shoulders with the nation's literary giants at the Bell Gully National Schools' Writing Festival at Victoria University this weekend.

The Festival, organised by the University's International Institute of Modern Letters and supported by leading law firm Bell Gully, has attracted more than 200 year 12 and 13 students from 70 secondary schools from Kaitaia to Wanaka.

The Festival opens on Friday night with a Gala Poetry Reading, featuring New Zealand's top poets and the presentation of the Bell Gully National Schools' Poetry Award for 2003. The Award, to be presented by television and radio interviewer Kim Hill, carries a $1000 prize and more than 90 students have entered.

The writers participating in the Bell Gully Festival are a "Who's Who" of New Zealand's top literary talent, including Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate Brian Turner and fellow poets Greg O'Brien, Jenny Bornholdt, James Brown, Kate Camp, Tusiata Avia, Bill Manhire and Hinemoana Baker, scriptwriters Paula Boock, Ken Duncum, Briar Grace-Smith and Duncan Sarkies (of Scarfies fame), and novelists Elizabeth Knox, William Brandt, Kate de Goldi, Victoria McHalick and Damien Wilkins.

New Zealand young writers will not only be able to hear these well-known writers read and discuss their work, on the second day of the Festival they'll also be able to participate in small group workshops with several of them. The workshops will cover writing for the stage and screen, short stories and poetry.

"Bell Gully has a long history of supporting the arts, schools and young people, so the award and the festival were an excellent and natural choice for us," said Maggie Callicrate, Bell Gully's Chief Executive Officer. "I'm delighted that our support will enable so many talented young people to work with New Zealand's leading writers, poets and playwrights."

IIML Director Professor Bill Manhire says he's been astounded by the response. "We had no idea when we first floated the idea for the Festival just how extraordinary the level of interest would be. It's so exciting to see how positively the Festival has been taken up by schools from one end of the country to the other, who have sent entries for the competition and students to the Festival."

Professor Manhire says the Festival aims to give student writers an equivalent to the Writers and Readers Week that features in the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.

"We think there will be the same buzz and excitement. We've got some of New Zealand's top contemporary writers attending and we'll be looking at everything from poetry and fiction to screen and theatre writing to the tricky work of getting your writing published."

Professor Manhire says Victoria is a logical place to hold the Festival, as the home of only branch of the International Institute of Modern Letters outside the United States. "One of the Institute's chief objectives is encouraging emerging writers from throughout the world and so we're doing our bit by helping senior high school students to develop their potential by allowing them to meet and discuss their work and aspirations with leading practitioners of the craft.

"When I was at high school I thought that writers were dead people who lived overseas. The students at the Bell Gully Festival are going to have an entirely different experience. I actually feel quite jealous of them. But as many of New Zealand's major writers have been through Victoria's own creative writing courses, we're confident that some of the students attending the Bell Gully Festival will soon be joining them."

The festival's full programme and a list of participating schools can be read at http://www.vuw.ac.nz/modernletters/festival.htm

Media are welcome to attend the Gala Poetry Reading, Friday 29 August, 6-7.30pm, Maclaurin Lecture Theatre 103, Victoria University, Kelburn Parade, Wellington.

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