May 15, 2009

AWRF 2009: Opening night

The "New Zealand Listener Opening night", with five writers sharing the stage, was chaired by Mark Sainsbury, who employed all his skills to make it all very jovial, although I discovered that I personally have a hard time with multiple readings of excerpts from novels, as just when I have settled in to really listen, absorbed the idiosyncrasies of the reader, etc., it's over and time to move on to the next. 

I was in the second row so did get a good chance to study the footwear of the participants, one of my favourite things to do. Monica Ali in very fashionable boots to the knee, with the uppers some mysterious soft and slightly falling down grey stuff, David Malouf in ankle boots, very elegant ones, not the Beatle boot/horse riding boot I associate with Australians, Chimamanda in black high-heels, slip-ons which clacked as she walked (she was very beautiful), Mark Sainsbury also in ankle boots which were definitely not up there with Malouf's. 

For me, the best moment came at the very end, a final question from just across the aisle. Paul Reynolds, sitting near me, identified the questioner to me afterwards as young ________ from Jason Books (quondam).  "Who are your influences?"  The lapel mikes buzzed with startled asides between panellists: What does that mean, if we say an author, do we have to mean all his books, does he mean now or before?  Young _______ blushed and said that a version or another of 'authors you liked' would do. Upon this hint they spake: 

David Malouf, unhesitating: "Balzac, Tolstoy, Dickens."
Monica Ali, smiling at us conspiratorially but still seeming like a head girl: "The writers we read in adolescence are the ones we read with intensity. Mine were Tolstoy, Dickens, Flaubert, Balzac."
Tash Aw, miffed but not too worried, he had an ace up his sleeve: "Mine are the same as the first two, but with Melville added."
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ruffled: "It's hard, humm, I could say Edith Wharton, pause, Chinua Achebe, pause, and people here will like this so I will put it in, Katherine Mansfield." (scattered applause)
Christos Tsiolkas, confidingly, truthfully: "Tolstoy, the Russians, but also the mid 20th century Americans, Carson McCullers, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth. Something about the robustness of their language, and so many of them were children of immigrant Jewish families, and this spoke to me, a child of an immigrant family."

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 23:34
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