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Three weeks of literary glory at NZ Festival of the Arts

A Booker International Prize winner, a US Poet Laureate, a human-emotion scientist and author and a spoken-word artist-cum-poet are some of the voices in the 2020 New Zealand Festival of the Arts Writers programme.

New Zealand Festival of the Arts has launched a programme that celebrates cutting-edge culture, pushes boundaries, encourages in-depth audience engagement and brings forward more artistic voices than ever before. The Writers programme has been expanded from one to three full weeks, giving audiences more opportunities to engage with writers across the entire Festival.

“Writers are artists who create worlds with words drawn from their experiences and imaginations, and we wanted to provide ample time and space to explore those worlds - one week was simply not enough”, says Writers Programme Coordinator, Director of Verb Festival and creator of LitCrawl Claire Mabey.

She says “audiences can expect conversations that will span the whole three-week festival and will have something for everyone”.

“The 2020 festival is an exciting step in the history of the New Zealand Festival of the Arts’ Writers programme: for the first time we are weaving events with writers through the entire programme which really acknowledges writers as artists and the sheer enormity of the contribution that writers make to public discourse.”

Week one will see New Zealand novelist Elizabeth Knox, Booker Prize-shortlisted writer Chigozie Obioma, break-out Native American author Tommy Orange and British author, actor and campaigner Lucy-Anne Holmes take centre-stage to discuss topics from contemporary Odyssey stories through to finding feminism through great sex.

“Some of my long-time heroes are headlining the first week: Elizabeth Knox and Witi Ihimaera have shaped my imagination thanks to their writing and I’m so proud to have them in special events in the opening week. I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Namwali Serpell whose novel, The Old Drift, is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a very long time. She is an outstanding writer and thinker and I know that she will be a lifetime discovery for many,” says Claire.

Come week two, Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi, scientist Lisa Feldman Barrett and Joy Harjo - the first Native American to be appointed the US Poet Laureate, will join audiences in discussing thought-provoking subjects such as how are emotions made and a behind-the-scenes look at Oman’s history.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi blew me away - it is a window into a world that I didn’t know much about but through Alharthi’s writing, and the wonderful translation, I felt immersed in Omani life. Having Joy Harjo here is a bit of a lifetime dream. I’m delighted to be welcoming so many women who have expanded the boundaries of literature and science at this festival,” says Claire.

The line-up in the final week of the festival features cardiac surgeon Samer Nashef, best-selling author George Saunders and sharp-tongued New York Times contributor Lindy West.

“The final week of the festival is so exciting: we get to talk with George Saunders, dive into the complex world of a heart surgeon with Samer Nashef, talk politics and feminism with Lindy West, and marvel at the sharpness of wit and observation of Scarlett Thomas. We will be finishing with a very important conversation about racism with voices from Aotearoa and Australia who will be sharing their experiences and insights in a way that I know will offer us all a way forward,” says Claire.

The final day of the Writers programme sees a group of writers from Aotearoa and Australia sit on a powerful and important panel on the eve of the Christchurch Massacre to discuss their experiences of everyday racism - looking at where we are now and what needs to happen going forward.

The Renouf Foyer in the Michael Fowler Centre will play home to most Writers events in 2020, when it will be transformed into a literary salon space with a botanical design, a bar and comfortable seating options.

Announcing a new Headline Partnership, the University of Waikato will support the Writers programme for the next three festivals.

University of Waikato Pro-vice Chancellor, Arts, Law, Psychology and Social Sciences, Professor Allison Kirkman says “the Writers programme is an iconic feature of New Zealand’s literary and intellectual life. It makes an outstanding contribution to public engagement with creative writing, the humanities and social sciences and applied sciences.

“This contribution mirrors areas of strength and focus at the University of Waikato. Partnership of Writers programme is an opportunity for the University of Waikato to support and ensure the viability of this nationally important event.”

The Take Five Pass is back and still the best way to soak up all that the Writers programme has to offer. Grab five different tickets for $76, a 20% discount on the stand-alone ticket prices. Get in quick - Take Five Passes are limited.

For full programme visit

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