WORD festival a phoenix rising for Christchurch

Here’s a shout out to those intrepid Cantabrians – brave, resilient people who saw their recent writers festivals crumble in earthquakes one and two. Now they have dusted themselves off for a fantastic new festival, WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival in association with The Press from August 27-31 2014.
 
Marianne Hargreaves (right), WORD Christchurch executive director, recapped for us The Read the sorry ending for their plans in September 2010 when the festival was due to start just five days after the first quake, with its massive effect on buildings and infrastructure. Revised plans for May 2011 also fell over following the tragic events of that February’s yet more destructive quake.
 
“We sat out the rest of 2011, apart from some low-key events in the winter,” Marianne says. After support from various post-quake funding initiatives, a pared-back festival was held in 2012 in a temporary dome at Hagley Park.
 
Come 2014, “It was time for some rebranding,” Marianne believed. Strategy meetings by the eight-strong Christchurch Book Festival Trust - along with input from Marianne and literary director Rachael King - came up with the concept. Christchurch design company Publica has delivered it with style on WORD’s website wordchristchurch.co.nz. “We are very happy with the result, which is clean and easy to follow,” Marianne says. The main graphic, a quote mark incorporating relief type, is a dominant and repeated feature.

Invited guests spanning the literary realm 
Rachael King was eager to get into full festival mode as literary director, and she is putting her own distinctive stamp on the selection of overseas and other guests. As an author, she has attended many festivals and met people she couldn’t wait to shoulder tap for WORD Christchurch 2014.
 
Anis Mojgani (left) is a US Poetry Slam Champion, and his appearance at the Wordstock festival in Portland that Rachael attended made such an impact on her - ‘his performance was like a rock concert’ - that she was thrilled he is available for WORD Christchurch. The author of three poetry collections, Anis lives in Austin, Texas.
 
Rachael wanted to widen the scope of this literary festival and to include songwriters. She is a long time fan of singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh. “I sent an invitation to her, thinking it would be a long shot." To her delight, the New Orleans-based singer and former teenage punk rock band founder readily accepted, and WORD Christchurch gained another headline act. Hersh also has book writing credentials for her memoir Paradoxical Undressing.
 
Fortunately for the WORD Christchurch audience, there will be multiple chances to see Anis and Kristin, with both these stunning performers each appearing in five sessions.
 
A brilliant kiwi line-up as well 
Kiwi authors over various genres get time to shine as well. Eleanor Catton was lined up for WORD Christchurch by Rachael ahead of the Man Booker Prize win, though she only confirmed her acceptance afterwards. Other Kiwis include Lloyd Jones (right), Owen Marshall, Tina Makereti, Charlotte Randall, Kate de Goldi, Elizabeth Knox and many children’s and young adult authors, illustrators and non fiction writers. They are all taking part in the comprehensive five-day programme of WORD Christchurch.
 
The WORD Christchurch Festival is associated with Melbourne and Brisbane Writers Festivals, and through those connections they will feature food critic and writer Ruth Reichl and her newly released novel Delicious!, Man Booker finalist No Violet Bulawayo and Guardian foreign correspondent Luke Harding, author of expose The Snowden Files.
 
Nor would a Kiwi literary festival be complete without our cookbooks and their authors! Simon Gault, Canterbury resident Rosie Belton, Lauraine Jacobs and others will contribute.
Yes, WORD Christchurch has so much we can't mention it all… but don’t forget Shigeru Ban talking in his Cardboard Cathedral, issues of destruction and rebuild with Reed Kroloff, and Damon Young (left) talking philosophy in the Botanic Garden’s architecturally interesting new visitor centre.
 
Rachael’s other must-see for festival goers is Jean Watson, the 80-year-old Kiwi who started a children’s home 30 years ago in India. Gerard Smyth, the filmmaker who has just covered Jean’s story in Aunty and the Star People will also be part of the session 
 
New Venues
In a fast changing building landscape, venues are a moving feature of each of the Christchurch Festivals. If it was here today, it might be gone by tomorrow! Marianne has secured an exciting range of outposts for sessions, perhaps the most intriguing being the Cardboard Cathedral itself (pictured below); she’s also delighted to be holding Damon Young’s Philosophy in the Garden as one of the first events to use the Botanic Gardens’ unheralded but beautiful visitor centre.
 
Rydges Hotel in Latimer Square has recently completely their rebuild, with a suite of inter-connecting function rooms that can be set up in different ways for smaller and larger audiences. This will be the main base for events, and the hotel is kindly letting WORD Christchurch use their boardroom for book storage!
Other venues will be The Darkroom, The Physics Room, Artbox and the Heritage Hotel. The latter will host an afternoon tea where “two grande dames of the South Island”, Dot Smith and Rosie Belton, will talk about their lust for life over tea and cakes.
 
Buying the Festival’s Books
Pene Whitty is the manager of UBS Canterbury, booksellers for WORD Christchurch. She’s unfazed by the sourcing and ordering of titles for the event, and by the multiple venues. She praises the great support received from New Zealand publishers, who have secured advance copies of many of the titles so she can make informed buying decisions. WORD Christchurch audiences can be sure that she has titles relevant to every speaker – including their backlist – with only their out-of print titles excepted.
 
One of the plus sides of WORD Christchurch logistics is that as mentioned, most of the major sessions will be held at Rydges Hotel, though there will be bookstalls also required for other venues. All of this is under Pene’s unflappable control. Not only is the WORD Christchurch brochure going to all UBS Canterbury customers, she is liaising with student groups for the brochures to reach appropriate interest groups.
 
Pene is actually one of the event’s best publicists – she doesn’t want to talk so much about her role as how excited she is by the scope and depth of the festival itself!
 
“The whole programme is looking great", says Pene, "Our customers are excited, we are looking forward to getting out there and it is fun to be involved.”
 
Article by Jillian Ewart