May 15, 2016

Auckland Writers Festival Gala Night "True Stories Told Live"

Our first dispatch from the Auckland Writers Festival Ocean Liner! Yes, because every year when I head over from the library to the Aotea Centre where the Gala Night is about to take place, when I see it loom up before me in the dark, all levels ablaze with light and teeming with people, wine glasses in their hands, I'm always reminded of the magical scene in Fellini's Amarcord of the fabled ocean liner Rex passing like a dream in the night, on its way to fabulous places.

Festival Director Anne O'Brien welcomed us all to this 16th Auckland Writers Festival with her usual √©lan. If last year she had given us a pang with her reading of an excerpt from Oliver Sacks’s essay “My Own Life”, written shortly after his diagnosis of terminal cancer, this year she enticed us with an excerpt from Neil Gaiman’s Fragile things.

“Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas --abstract, invisible, gone once they've been spoken -- and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created.”

The theme for the small stories, eight of them, told to us by eight Festival writers in the True Stories Told Live format which is by now the signature of the Gala night, was Altered States. I’m sure everyone in the audience had their own favourites; I had four.

Petina Gappah (“rising Zimbabwean star”) had Spirit with a capital S and her jaunty lines included “As a Marxist-Leninist my drug of choice was vodka”, and her finale: “If one dream dies, I’m going to dream another dream and I’m going to dream it bigger!”.

Poet Tusiata Avia came out of the wings looking for all the world like a Minoan priestess with her mysterious archaic smile and regal countenance, and took her shoes off and spoke to us, in line with Minoan priestesses, about altered states originating from her epilepsy-- auras, and a thing called “Jamais vu”, never seen, the opposite of the better known “Deja vu”, already seen: “I don’t recognise where I am or who I am with”, and about the tumour next to her pineal gland, known as our “inner eye”. Her closing, testifying to the role of the unknown, had a hint of the oracular. “I don’t know what the ending is” she said, and exited.

I am very fond of New York Jewish humour and enjoyed both Vivian Gornick (“New York woman of letters”) and her story about Daniel and the effect he had on her F.I., or "Feeling Intelligence", which was to stop it from working, making it impossible for her to process the discrepancies between what he told her (My parents live abroad) and what she observed him doing (visiting them in Kansas City).

And finally, Jeanette Winterson. “My mother was a flamboyant depressive”, she began, who read the Bible to her every day. “Books were banned, except for the Bible. I asked her why and she said, 'The trouble with a book is that you don’t know what’s in it until it’s too late'". She found the books Jeanette was hiding under her mattress (apparently you can hide 72 books under a standard mattress) and took them outside and poured kerosene over them and burned them.

Watching the bonfire, Jeanette realised two things: “One, only the things inside us are ours -- I can memorise them! And then I thought, I CAN WRITE MY OWN!”

“It’s about the place we make in our imaginations, because the imagination is where everything begins.”

Could there have been a better send-off for a festival of writers and readers?

Auckland Writers Festival

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 21:30


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