May 12, 2012

Opening night gala at the AWRF 2012

The New Zealand Listener Gala Night, the opening event of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, can be declared a resounding success. I can't remember having been at any Writers and Readers Festival event during which the ASB Theatre so resounded with laughter and applause - the latter explicitly solicited by the beautiful and perfect Carol Hirschfeld as MC. Carol personally led the first rounds of applause, which she performed in a sort of flamenco style, arms upraised, a few to the left, a few to the right (I think she was simply trying not to clap right into the mike, actually, but whatever the reason, it added quite a touch of style).

The event used the "True stories told live" format, "live and true storytelling, unscripted and unmediated" as the programme assured us, on the theme What the Dickens?, honouring Charles's 200th birthday. As could be expected when storytelling is involved, and whether it was done on purpose or not, having half the presenters be Irish was certainly a master stroke in terms of laughter.

In this sense, the revelation of the evening, at least for me, was Eoin Colfer (double revelation actually, because I also found out to my surprise that his name is pronounced "Oh-in" and not "Ee-in"), who warmed us up with a short intro about how he once appeared at an All Irish (Go Irish? something like that) event with Roddy Doyle and Colin Farrell, where the organiser took him to one side and told him "Your Irish accent is not very good, could you spice it up with a few colloquialisms?" And his reply was, he said, "What? No, I'm a serious writer, bejeezus!" He also delivered the best throwaway line of the evening, "I was on my way over here on Virgin Australia (that's a plane)..."

Roddy Doyle's story of a night he spent in the Dublin A&E was the most Dickensian of the stories, just as I felt he cut a fine Dickensian figure on the stage. Perhaps the least Dickensian, figure and story, was Jesmyn Ward, the young black American writer whom I had expected might be this year's incarnation of the AWRF tradition of having a dark-skinned young woman writer who is always beautiful and chic in the line-up every year (come to think of it, it won't be an AWRF tradition but a publishers' tradition), but hey, although definitely lovely, she actually ambled out in jeans and a grey sweater which, while it was not a sweatshirt, was also cheerfully not a "look".

Or maybe the least was Geoff Dyer, who instead of a story performed a lecture on Jackson Pollock, with a lot of commentary on binge-drinking and baldness. He kept falling into long pauses and announcing he had to go consult his notes, and doing it, which I took to be one of those English upper class habits where you are so confidently upper class that you can be kind of shabby and amateurish. I'm not very good at recognising English classes. But my English-born friend Helen thought that was very funny when I confided it to her at the after-opening party. Apparently not!

I got done laughing at that just in time to hear this thought from one of speakers who had lined up to christen the festival, the CEO of Creative New Zealand, Stephen Wainwright: "You know... in the dark ages when there was no reading... we don't wanna go back there!" Agreement was written on all the faces present, except perhaps those like myself who were trying to handle the exceptionally slippery canapĂ©s, little triangles of soft white bread permeated with melted cheese. Mine slipped right out of my fingers and onto the floor, prompting an incredibly quick response from the world's foremost Nabokov scholar, Brian Boyd, who will be speaking on Saturday about "Why lyrics matter" in conversation with Iain Sharp, an event I highly recommend. Brian deftly swooped down on my fallen canapĂ© with a serviette just as I imagine Nabokov might have brought his net down on a Karner blue butterfly,  furthermore waving away the suggestion that this was anything but routine.

Now that's class!




Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00
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