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Literary leaders gather for Festival of Words

Some of the biggest names in New Zealand literature are descending on New Plymouth District this month to celebrate Puke Ariki’s Festival of Words.

NPDC Libraries Manager Dyane Hosler says public interest in the festival is growing with a number of the scheduled events already sold out and limited tickets for the rest of the bookable performances available

“We have a fantastic line-up of guest speakers, writing and poetry workshops, comedy and kōrero,” she says.

“Most of all we hope that the Festival will be a reminder that NPDC’s libraries are all about connection with our community and the many opportunities that come from discovering the world of words.”

The Festival of Words opens with a special evening featuring award-winning writer Witi Ihimaera and Kingsley Spargo on Thursday 29 July at Puke Ariki Museum.

Ihimaera’s career started nearly 50 years ago when the first collection of short stories by a Māori writer was published. This was a landmark occasion for New Zealand literature and led to a bibliography of more than 40 titles, including The Whale Rider.

Tickets to spend an evening with Ihimaera are limited with paid bookings ($15 per ticket) essential.

Other highlights include an afternoon with author Sarah Myles in the Cinema at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery where she will speak about her experience piecing together the stories of her grandfather (a carpenter from New Plymouth) who died in the Mt Erebus disaster more than four decades ago.

For those looking for something a bit different, celebrated writer Dame Fiona Kidman will be at a sell-out event at Empire Tea & Coffee on Sunday, 1 August for High Tea and an afternoon of words, wit and wisdom.

Comedian, impersonator and writer Tom Sainsbury will add to his growing reputation and following when he appears at Puke Ariki Museum on Saturday 31 July to chat about his hilarious book New Zealanders: The Field Guide, a compilation of his favourite kiwi archetypes.

His comprehensive array of kiwi heroes and heroines include the useless farmhand that is forever jack-knifing the trailer, the Martyr Mother who guilt-trips her children, the officious office worker who narks on the rest of the staff for low-level misdemeanours, and the Alpha male teenager who loiters around Mt Manganui every New Year.

“I’m completely obsessed with human psychology,” he says. ”I’ve spent a lifetime watching the people that populate this fair nation and boy, there are some wonderful characters out there. Humans are beautifully and entertainingly flawed.”

The Festival runs from 29 July to 1 August and includes paid ticketed, free ticketed and open (no bookings required) events. View the full line-up and book tickets at

Puke Ariki’s Festival of Words takes place at the same time as TAFT’s Right Royal Cabaret Fest.

Audiences will be able to experience the allure, glamour, and thrill of live cabaret by night, and a showcase of writing workshops, poetry readings, comedy and kōrero at venues right across the district earlier in the day.

Puke Ariki Fast Facts:

• Puke Ariki opened on 15 June 2003.

• It is the world’s first purpose-built, fully integrated museum, library and visitor information centre.

• Puke Ariki and the district libraries had more than 842k people through their doors last year and issued 416k items.

• In January, a record 10,379 audiobooks and ebooks were downloaded.

• As of February 2021, there were 22k active library members

• This is Puke Ariki’s second literary festival after AdLib in 2018.

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