I’ve gone a bit literary in recent years. As well as biting off a slightly-larger-than-I-can-eat biographical project (on which more later), I’ve got a teaching gig with the creative writing team at Manukau Institute of Technology, and I’ve also found myself on the board of the Going West Festival.
Why? After 30 odd years as a theatre director, dramaturge, critic, researcher, content strategist and producer, it eventually dawned on me that all I really like doing – all I’ve ever really done – is tell stories. So, now I’m doing as much as I can.
Going West is going strong. The bad news is that we’ve got a change in venue this year. The Titirangi War Memorial Hall had a bad fire a couple of weeks ago, so this year we’re in the old Waitakere Council Building in Henderson.
While it’s no longer in my neighbourhood (I love strolling up the road to the festival, taking in a show at Te Uru gallery sometimes on the way); the Henderson venue has the distinct advantage of being built on a train station, so it’s super easy to get to. And since the inaugural festival was founded by Murray Gray on a train with a reading by Maurice Gee, that seems fairly ideal too.
The programme has highlights aplenty. On opening night of the Books and Writers’ Weekend, this Friday, I’m looking forward to Small Holes in the Silence, which is a range of New Zealand poetry read by Bill Manhire and accompanied by Norman Meehan, Hannah Griffin and Blair Latham. The same night has more poetry by Selina Tusitala Marsh and a lecture by the always-erudite economics journalist Rod Oram.
Elsewhere throughout the weekend you’ll find me in the room with Anne Salmond and Moana Maniopoto on New Zealand in and after 1840; Catherine Chidgey and Sue Orr on The Wish Child; Witi Ihimaera, Tina Makereti and Paula Morris on their anthology of indigenous writing; and Russell Brown and Colin Hogg on weed (the subject of Colin’s new book).
There is more to the festival beyond the weekend, though. The theatre programme alone is an entire festival in itself, including a night with Rawiri Paratene, a playwriting masterclass by Albert Belz, The Maori Sidesteps, and Kororareka by Paulo Rotondo and Red Leap Theatre, and miles more besides.
On Saturday Night I’ll be as close to the front as I can get at the Poetry Slam final. Here, spoken word artists slug it out for a cash prize. While some people find competition at odds with culture, I like this annual event. It’s all about courage and honesty and changing the world and I think putting money on the table sharpens all the contestants’ verbal blades.
There’s also a new event this year: a little cinema festival. Across 18, 19 and 20 September there’ll be a doco on Mansfield, another on Sargeson, a curated collection of cinepoetic shorts and also a screening of the much loved, highly awarded My Father’s Den, based on Maurice Gee’s third novel.
So, take a break from changing the government, get on a train and go west (preferably while reading Going West). And don’t forget to bring a bag for all the books you’ll want to get while you’re there.