Art & Entertainment | Book Reviews | Education | Entertainment Video | Health | Lifestyle | Sport | Sport Video | Search


Truth is stranger than fiction





The 2011 Auckland Writers & Readers Festival will hum with tales of human resilience – real life and fictional.

“Stories of struggle, sacrifice, and the instinct to maintain a capacity for compassion and human decency in the face of tragedy and injustice are at the forefront of this year’s programme,” says Artistic Director Jill Rawnsley.

A number of this year’s guest writers are living proof of the adage “truth is stranger than fiction”. Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate is an unforgettable biography, from his birth and childhood in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, to the tragic loss of his three daughters during an Israeli incursion in January 2009. Ingrid Betancourt’s Even Silence Has An End is an extraordinary account of her internal and external struggle while enduring six and a half years’ captivity in the Columbian jungle as a hostage of FARC. Hana Schofield and Atka Reid, now domiciled in New Zealand, share a heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting story of growing up in Sarajevo in the 1990s, Goodbye Sarajevo. Fatima Bhutto’s Songs of Blood and Sword takes us behind the scenes of one of the most powerful families in Pakistan. And James Fergusson shares his wealth of experience on the ground in Afghanistan.

A festival is all about writers bringing their stories to life – and because we’re geographically distant, we have precious few opportunities to gain understanding through direct contact with those who live with conflict. I’m interested in ‘other’ sides of these stories,” says Rawnsley.

From the world of science, Naomi OreskesMerchants of Doubt is a history of a cadre of influential scientists who have clouded public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda. Ex-Greenpeace leader Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy is an action plan to deal with two linked challenges to human ingenuity and survival: climate change and the world economic crisis. Barbara Strauch, the Medical and Science Editor of The New York Times, gives us hope that middle-aged brains aren’t necessarily hurtling downhill, but are eminently suited to resolving complex issues. The Festival plans to co-host with The Allan Wilson Centre a major panel on ethics and the environment featuring Oreskes, Gilding, and eminent evolutionary USA biologist Fred Allendorf.

Other guests include World War One expert Professor Jay Winter, Carolyn Burke who’s back (in 2007 she was in Auckland to talk about Lee Miller) with a new biography, No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, and Rives, a spoken word performance poet and multimedia artist who regularly receives standing ovations at TED conferences.

A welcome focus on food brings to Auckland Indian cookery expert, actress and all-round fascinating individual Madhur Jaffrey, and the infamous restaurant critic, gourmet traveller and inveterate storyteller A.A. Gill.

Fiction aficionados will have the pleasure of spending time with the marvellous David Mitchell, short story specialist Claire Keegan, rising star David Vann (Caribou Island is receiving rave reviews), Gail Jones, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix and Sean Williams from Australia, and a wealth of New Zealand writers, novelists and poets. A free event featuring past and present Poet Laureates, sponsored by the National Library, brings Jenny Bornholdt, Michele Leggott, Bill Manhire, Cilla McQueen, Elizabeth Smither and Brian Turner to Auckland. Local writers confirmed to date include: Laurence Fearnley, Dylan Horrocks, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Mary Kisler, Joanna Preston, Hana Schofield & Atka Reid, Ant Sang, Chris Slane, Robert Sullivan, Tina Makereti, Frances Walsh and Vincent Ward.

2011 Guests Announced

International guests, in alphabetical order, confirmed to date (please see the biographical information attached):

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate (Palestine);
Ingrid Betancourt, Even Silence Has an End (France/Columbia);
Fatima Bhutto, Songs of Blood and Sword (Pakistan);
Carolyn Burke, No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf (Australia);
James Fergusson, Taliban (Scotland);
Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption (Australia);
A. A. Gill, Here and There (Scotland);
Madhur Jaffrey, Curry Easy (India/USA);
Gail Jones, Five Bells (Australia);
Claire Keegan, Foster (Ireland);
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (UK);
Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt (USA);
Rives (USA); Barbara Strauch,
Secrets of the Middle-Aged Brain (USA);
David Vann, Caribou Island (USA).

Schools Programme guests are: Cassandra Clare (USA); Karen Healey (NZ/AUS); Margo Lanagan (AUS); Garth Nix (AUS); Meg Rosoff (UK); and Sean Williams (AUS).

Special Events – Bookings from 10 March

The 2011 festival will feature ten Special Events: “Works with Words” on Wednesday 11 May, is a music and spoken word performance of six new pieces inspired by New Zealand writers. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Stuart Devenie come together to bring them to life. The Soul Lunch features outspoken and eloquent speaker Fatima Bhutto. “New Zealand Listener Night” on Thursday 12 May has a new format. Friday 13 May sees “The Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize Awards” presented by Barbara Strauch (Health and Medical Science Editor at The New York Times) before “An Audience with A.A. Gill”. Enjoy “High Tea” at the Langham Hotel on Saturday 14 May, and USA Slam Poetry Champion Rives, the first “2.0 poet” and TED favourite appears in “Saturday Night Rives”. Sunday 15 May features a very special lunch at The Langham Hotel with much-loved Indian food expert, cookbook writer and actress Madhur Jaffrey. “The Long and Short of It Awards” and “Poetry Idol” finish the festival with a bang on Sunday evening. Michael Connelly visits Auckland on Tuesday 24 May for a special appearance at a screening of “The Lincoln Lawyer”.

Wordy Day Out

We’re delighted to announce a new addition to the Festival programme: a special day celebrating Young Adult authors. “Wordy Day Out”, at the University of Auckland Business School, will see Cassandra Clare, Meg Rosoff, Bernard Beckett, Brian Falkner, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Karen Healey, Mandy Hager, Margo Lanagan and Paula Morris take the stage.

Awards, Workshops and Free Events

The Festival hosts two awards in 2011: the award for “The Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize” will be presented by Barbara Strauch on Friday 13 May. The winners of a new competition sponsored by Unity Books and Sport, “The Long and Short of It Awards”, will be announced on Thursday 12 May and celebrated in a free event on Sunday 15 May. Due to their popularity in 2010, another series of writing workshops will be available during the Festival, along with a diverse range of free events including: an Auckland Theatre Company play reading and discussion; a panel around the Human Rights Foundation’s newly published Law into Action; and a session on the history of New Zealand housewifery!

This year’s programme for intermediate and secondary school students features:

Our intermediate/lower secondary day (Wednesday 11 May) features: Carnegie Medal-winner Meg Rosoff (UK); international bestsellers Garth Nix and Sean Williams from Australia; award-winning New Zealand author Brian Falkner; and renowned poet and storyteller Apirana Taylor from Paekakariki. The secondary school day (Thursday 12 May) features: Cassandra Clare (US), author of the bestselling Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series;

Meg Rosoff (UK); Australian authors Garth Nix, Sean Williams and Margo Lanagan; New Zealand writers Karen Healey, Apirana Taylor, Bernard Beckett and Mandy Hager; and stellar songwriter Annah Mac with Play It Strange CEO Mike Chunn.

Students are also being offered the opportunity to take a writing workshop with Brian Falkner, Apirana Taylor, Mandy Hager and Bernard Beckett. Schools bookings are open now at, and a downloadable Schools Programme is available on the festival website at

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Charlotte Yates' Mansfield Project

Katherine Mansfield's vapid verses are of even less interest than her over-rated short stories, but Yates has risen to the challenge of producing a fascinating compilation album by a variety of musicians to accompany her poetry. More>>

Howard Davis: Dazed & Confused by Beats

Beats is both a coming-of-age tale and a romantic movie about endings, set to a nostalgic backdrop of the disappearing tail of the UK's illegal rave scene. More>>

Howard Davis: And The Oscar Goes To … Parasite

For its deliciously dark wit and genre-bending ingenuity, Bong Joon-ho's latest movie has just won four out of a potential six Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay and Director. Only ten foreign-language films have previously been nominated for Best Picture and none have won before. More>>

Howard Davis: 1917's 1,000 Yard Stare

Sam Mendes has created a terrible and barbarous trek, one that we appreciate all the more for being catapulted right into the midst of this ear-splitting melee from the film's opening sequence. More>>




  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland