May 19, 2017

True Stories Told Live at AWF 17

The 18th Auckland Writers Festival has sailed into town, bigger and richer than ever: more than the ocean liner it felt like to me last year, an entire flotilla experience. Books, songs, lunches, salons in the square, a street festival, and the clincher, a sail around the Hauraki Gulf.

I'm going to say that the barge of beaten gold with purple sails in the flotilla has to be the Gala Night with its True Stories Told Live, for whose story is synonymous with applying a smidgin of artistry to your truth if not Cleopatra? For those unfamiliar with the format, the gala features eight writers telling a seven minute true story, or mostly true story, on a theme; this year the theme was "The heart of the matter".

"The heart is the first organ in the human embryo to form. It starts from two small blood-filled tubes and ties itself into an elaborate four-chambered knot. It gives rise to the first cadence we ever hear and the last." These were the first lines of the evening's first story, told by that rare soul, poet and medical doctor Glenn Colquhoun. Then it turned into poetry, a mix of English poetry and the Maori poetic tradition, two small blood-filled tubes which he wanted to tie together "to give rise to a new life". The story-poem was for his great-great-great-grandmother Mary, who had given away her out-of-wedlock baby to a woman who married into the Colquhoun family in Scotland. "I have come 200 years to wake you from your sleep", he distilled for us from the te reo which, following tradition, he sang.

I found myself wishing I could have seen his performance without the glaring, gigantic, electronic image on the big screen which hung above him. He needed to be in his real dimension only, a man, a vast empty stage, something happening that was akin to sacred.

You might be getting the impression that Glenn Colquhoun was the storyteller who most impressed me, and you'd be right. But they were all wonderful.

Glenn Colquhoun

The Irish writer Anne Enright, known for her intelligent, unflinching novels, the 2007 Booker Prize winner The Gathering for one, was rounder (no, I don't mean plump, I mean not angular), funnier and more mischievous than I had imagined her. Her haircut was positively Tin Tin like (a compliment) and her story came from a place in her past, a headland north of Dublin where her family had a house, "some said chalet, more of a shack", and which also housed a lunatic asylum.

Anne Enright

Esteemed theologian and NZ treasure Lloyd Geering (Pip Muir's announcement in her introduction that he was 99 years old was met with a round of applause-- lesson to myself: if you want to be reassured about not losing cachet with age, hang out at writers festivals) told a wonderful story about a trip from Beirut to Baghdad by bus, back when Iraq was still called Mesopotamia. I couldn't stop looking at his limpid eyes behind the glasses, as guileless as children's, and thinking of what Bruce Chatwin said: only the very young and the very old should be allowed to tell their dreams.

Lloyd Geering (photo W. Nichol)

Fijian Kiwi Gina Cole was greeted with a grand round of applause, to my especial pleasure. Gina won the first creative writing contest we ran with Alternative Bindings for the Auckland Pride Festival, and now her first published book of stories, Black ice, is in our collection and was also an Auckland Libraries Top 100 choice for 2016. Her story was about even longer ago than that, her first year at Auckland Uni, a story of misadventure and friendship, wry and warm, impeccably told.

Gina Cole

James Shapiro, Shakespeare scholar from Brooklyn, was the funniest storyteller, as the Brooklyn in his bio might have suggested, as might also the topic, his "harrible" (as they say in Brooklyn) early experiences with Shakespearean productions, studies, and one particular professor.

James Shapiro (photo Mary Cregan)

Ivan Coyote! Shout out to Ivan Coyote! Shiny as a Swiss knife, as an old manager of mine used to say (not about me). An important story and a wonderful story, as are all the stories in The tomboy survival guide, which I'm reading right now, told by a pro. A true pro, I mean: as well as being a writer, Ivan has long been using storytelling to explore gender and identity. Also a person in a notable state of true being, I also mean, after having met them at the Gala Night After Party. Go see Ivan Coyote!

Ivan Coyote (photo J Tymkov)

Mpho Tutu van Furth told a beguiling story about the three princes in her life. The first was "Red rental shoes" who gave her her first real kiss, the second was an English boyfriend of the so very English ways, so odd for apartheid-era South Africa, especially considering that they included cutting the grass in her family's front garden in Soweto, prompting the neighbours to say "Trust the Tutus to be the only family with a white gardener!", and the third, why, "The third was when I fell on one knee to ask Marcelline to marry me".

Inspector Rebus's Ian Rankin closed with a story which started with a poetry contest in high school and the book he got from the library (silent cheer from me) and ended with this wisdom worthy of a writer, a writer of mysteries, no less: "Fiction has to be credible, the real world does not."

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 11:00


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