Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writers and Readers event for the victims of the CHCH earthquake

I'm an organizer for a Writers and Readers event to be held city wide Friday, March 25th from 6pm to 8pm,  with proceeds to go to Red Cross fund for the victims of the Christchurch earthquake.

The event will have:

  • a set list of writers reading from their work
  • poetry readings
  • refreshments available
  • an open mic session for anyone who wishes to read

We're looking for:

volunteers to help with set up
volunteers to help on the day, prepare and sell refreshments
writers to read
writers to have a go at the open mike
volunteers to help with transport on the day

The venue will be multiple libraries across the Auckland region. Auckland City Libraries are looking to host at all 55 of their sites. Here's the link to the Facebook page set up to gather volunteers.
Writers and Readers event for CHCH earthquake victims

If you prefer, either email myself at or Maggie Tarver of the NZSA at 

It strikes me that each of us is best served doing what we do, as an offering. So coming to the event to listen to the readings and bringing a koha is a contribution, as we cant all be rescuers in the rubble. Artists can create their art in dedication, singers sing, writers write. I can't fly a helicopter, but I can read to an audience. So we should encourage all who feel the need to have their voice heard, have a chance to do so.  

Please circulate over your networks and let us know if you can help.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The passing of Judith Binney

I was saddened this week to hear of the death of Judith Binney, one of New Zealand’s most eminent historians and storytellers.
My only personal contact with Professor Binney was in the early 1990s when I was studying history and politics at Auckland University and I took her comparative paper on the colonisation of New Zealand/Aotearoa and Mexico. Her lectures and tutorials were fascinating - she was a dynamic storyteller who understood both oral and written narrative techniques and used them with considerable power to explore and analyse historical events, characters and relationships.
Her books are national treasures and I guess it’s some comfort to know her work was honoured while she was alive.
May she rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New audiences, New Forms

An interesting facet of the last couple of Auckland Folk Festivals is the increasing numbers of young people (under 25ish). There may be several reasons for this. There's a current of individuality in younger people and their interests and a rebirth of interest in grassroots entertainment and pursuits, where the field and form comes up out of the audience and community, not imposed down from above. In sport this is reflected in a move away from organized professional team sports (which are so reliant on Public Relations branding and spin) towards more individualized sports (snowboarding, mountain biking, BASE jumping). It's also a rejection of corporate culture itself (which is what major sports franchises have become). This trend is reflected in listening to independent music labels, or the contemporary process of ignoring record labels altogether and building up a following through gigging and social media sites, e.g: Facebook, Twitter, You Tube. It's an irony that makes me smile that this modern phenomenon leads some listeners back to one of the oldest (known) forms of music - folk music. A form where so much is still back porch stuff - and that's its strength.

There's a parallel there in the reclaiming of the process of being published and read away from the corporate publishers, that online publishing is now helping to foster. Where someone can record something simply and have it heard or read. The music industry has changed drastically with the artists themselves empowered with the opportunity to record and publish. I wonder what the publishing landscape will look like in 10 years time. Very different, I'd imagine.

Summer folk...

The annual Auckland Folk Music Festival has come and gone for another year. As always it was a fascinating mix of song and story, and song as story. I posted a link on Folk Music and Writing in December. It's as much a gathering of storytellers as it is a gathering of musicians. One of the highlights is to wander among the tents in the early evening where you can hear songs from all over the world and from several different folk traditions getting new airings. In many rural societies of migrants music was a form of currency, something to bring to the table. It reflected either the differences in tradition of different migrant groups and cultures or often a shared heritage. That shared heritage could cross many national boundaries and periods of time. An Appalachian folk ballad would carry strains of Celtic music, so people who had no everyday knowledge of its tradition and the people who crafted it would carry that tradition within their music, within them, all the while building a new tradition.There are performers now who combine cultural traditions. A trio from Christchurch Emeralds and Greenstone played a fusion of Celtic and Maori music in contemporary interpretations of those forms.

For me one of the highpoints of each festival is the concert with amateur performers. This is music stripped of all pretense, of all tainting by marketing imperatives. People play music because they like it, or because they grew up with it. There's a floating community between songster and audience as the audience recognizes the songs from their own cultural heritage. Music as whakapapa. I was on a Maori writers tour a few years back where we had some First Nations writers from Canada and they smiled at the fact that when our troupe had finished reading and singing the local community audience would do the same in return. A swapping of story and song. The First Nations visitors noted how the same tradition lived in their own culture.

I recently watched a documentary on the 1951 Waterfront Strike where the government banned all public discussion and viewpoints from the workers (watersiders, miners) so only one narrative - the government's narrative - could be heard. The 'media' of the ordinary people moved underground, via pamphlets, bills posted on walls, meetings in peoples' homes (all of which were declared illegal under Emergency Powers.) Folk music has often played the same role, of keeping the ordinary people's narrative alive.

Long may it continue to do so.

Teaching schedule in 2011...

The new academic year is almost upon us and I have a lot of teaching to do this year. I'll be teaching and mentoring on the Master of Creative Writing programme at AUT Centre for Creative Writing throughout the year plus teaching the VOICES paper on their BA Programme .

The Centre also have a paper which is proving increasingly popular, the Special Project Paper, a 30 credit paper where the student works with a Mentor on a piece (or series of pieces) of their choosing, developing it through to submission stage. This paper has no structured or set class times but involves submission of samples for critiquing and analysis, then follow-up meetings face to face. It's popular with those students who can't devote a set number of hours per week for structured classes (working people, mothers with children etc) or prefer to work with a more fluid structure. Technical points are covered as and when they come up in the writing samples and projected future work. It's a good way to progress work on a story collection or a longer single work over the course of a semester. I'm now having students sign up for successive semesters. It's also a decent preparation for the writer/mentor environment a student will later work with on the Masters programme (if that's a future step they have planned.)

I'll also be teaching at Unitec School of Communication Studies  in both Semester 1 and 2. I've been teaching their Introduction to Narrative Course since 2008 and we're adding a Narrative - Stage Two paper this Semester to take the study of the field further. I'm told this is the most 'Westerly' creative writing paper in Auckland and the classes cater to a very vibrant storytelling community that doesn't get much exposure.

If you're in Auckland, have a look at some of these options.

NZ Book Month

New Zealand Book Month is almost upon us. Starting March 1st and running until the end of the month. It's a non-profit initiative begun in 2006 to acquaint NZ readers, books and authors and has taken on a few guises over the years.

Probably the most interesting of the events they came up with was the Sixpack, collections of six short stories (by different authors) sold for $6. That generated quite a hubub in the writing community with authors disciplining themselves to complete and send off stories for publication in the collection. Shame it vanished...

There are a lot of good locally centered events which are driven from the grass-roots writing community upwards: book launches for local authors, local dramatic groups performing NZ drama, interviews with the authors of life writing projects and local histories.

In Aotearoa New Zealand we're often told how to define ourselves (The little country that could - via some branding expert... the All Blacks...the America's cup soap operas) when I feel we could be thinking of ourselves more in terms of our stories. Who are they about, who wrote them, what do they say about us?

Here's a link to the events calendar to check out what's happening near you.

Events Calendar NZ book month