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A Stellar Line-up Of Writers And Thinkers Announced For The Return Of Wānaka’s Aspiring Conversations

After a six-year hiatus, Aspiring Conversations festival is set to return, transforming Wānaka into a hub of intellectual exchange and cultural celebration. From 4-7 April the festival will host 14 events across three venues, featuring a diverse line up of forty speakers and artists, exploring themes ranging from culture and history to adventure, politics, personal challenges, climate change, and more.

The full programme is available at with ticket sales starting at 8:30am on Friday 2 February.

Festival Director Sophie Kelly says, “We are delighted to be back with a programme that gives people the opportunity to come together, listen, talk, laugh and be challenged while reconnecting within our growing community.”

Launching on Thursday 4 April, with DIRTY PASSPORTS, an event by award-winning Chinese-Kiwi playwright Nathan Joe. BIPOC storytellers and artists take centre stage, challenging and breaking down stereotypes, and untwisting tongues. The following day, Nathan shifts gears from spoken word to a culinary journey with MasterChef NZ champion Sam Low. Introducing MODERN CHINESE Sam’s cookbook demystifies Chinese cooking with easy recipes using supermarket ingredients. Drawing from his diasporic Chinese upbringing, Sam redefines modern Chinese cooking, offering the audience a flavourful experience.

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Friday 5 April offers a full day of festival action, kicking off with Victoria Bruce on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery through the Te Araroa trail. The day continues with a literary showdown in AI VERSUS THE LIBRARIANS, where artificial intelligence goes head-to-head with human librarians. The evening concludes with CHANCING IT, bringing together mountaineer Lydia Bradey, songstress Julia Deans, sports journalist Alice Soper, and novelist/bookshop owner Ruth Shaw, as they recount the moments when they embraced uncertainty and took life-changing chances.

Saturday morning starts early with BREAKFAST WITH PAPERS, a personalised briefing on current affairs with political journalists Paddy Gower, Guyon Espiner, and Susie Ferguson. Later in the programme, Gower and Espiner host THE DRINKING GAME espousing on giving up the booze with writer Lotta Dann. KO KĀI TAHU ME TE TIRITI brings together dedicated kaimahi from the Ngāi Tahu Archive and representatives from the three marae closest to the Kāi Tahu signings to discuss how local events shaped those at Waitangi.

Former Rhodes Scholar and progressive political thinker Max Harris, who launched his book The New Zealand Project at the festival in 2017, returns in 2024 to discuss his new book and share his unique perspective on our healthcare system. Following this, broadcaster Susie Ferguson, author Byron C Clarke, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, and Director of the Disinformation Project Kate Hannah explore the dangers of misinformation in the digital age and in public life in TRUTH AND LIES. Ending the day on a lively note is a performance from award-winning creators Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger with a contemporary retelling of the ancient myth of Phaeton and the sun god – HELIOS.

The final day of the festival keeps the ideas flowing, starting early with a Zoom session hosted by Verb Festival Director Claire Maybe with two of Ireland's finest writers and bestselling authors – Claire Keegan and Audrey McGee. Rod Oram (NZ journalist and broadcaster), Monique Kelly (co-founder of Revology and Wao Aotearoa in Wānaka), Sophie Handford (founder of School Strike 4 Climate) and Mount Aspiring College students present a lively kōrero in WHAT'S THE TIPPING POINT, exploring effective communication on global warming and how to get action on climate change.
Wrapping up the festival is an exploration of Kiwi song writing brilliance in TOWER OF SONG, featuring Julia Deans, Adam McGrath, and Ebony Lamb. Hosted by music reviewer, writer and broadcaster Grant Smithies, the session promises to unveil the magic, inspiration, and challenges of creating songs.

The festival is also delighted to welcome back broadcaster Kathryn Ryan to chair several of the programmes sessions.

The festival experience offers the chance for people to come together and share insights and take their thoughts further with a pop-up café, bar service, and bookshop.

Aspiring Conversations takes place at the Lake Wānaka Centre (DIRTY PASSPORTS takes place at Rhyme x Reason and MODERN CHINESE takes place at Federal Diner) from Thursday 4 to Sunday 7 April.

The festival is delighted to again offer The Aspiring Pass. Priced at $225 this allows purchasers access to a reserved seat for all events excluding, Dirty Passports, Modern Chinese, Tower of Song and Helios.

Aspiring Conversations is presented by the Southern Lakes Arts Festival Trust and is sponsored by Milford Asset Management. The festival is supported through grants from Creative New Zealand, Central Lakes Trust, Otago Community Trust, and Queenstown Lakes District Council, local business sponsors, benefactors and patrons.

High Res Event Images here: IMAGES

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