A literary smorgasbord

One of the gratifying features of our great little city is the wealth of diverse events and activities on offer to residents and visitors alike throughout the year; from fashion to wildlife, sport to the arts, Dunedin is all right here.

During the past weekend it was the turn of the biggest event on the literary calendar: the biennial Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival.

Everyone came to the party: residents and out-of-towners from various parts of New Zealand, local, national and international poets, authors, journalists, columnists, songwriters, musicians, bloggers, playwrights, actors, illustrators, booksellers, publishers and publicists.

Two graduation ceremonies brought further visitors to the city and contributed to the bustle around the Octagon and art gallery, where the majority of the festival events were held. Even the weather played its part, providing glorious calm, clear and mild autumn days.

Yet again the festival programme was packed - particularly on the main weekend days - with an eclectic mix of events befitting our Unesco City of Literature. There were plaque unveilings, walking tours, book launches, poetry, book and play readings, workshops, gigs, plays, author panels. Themes ranged from medicine to mortality, sexuality to creativity. Discussions covered everything from the books that transformed lives, to the origins of the Dunedin Sound, to advice about how to have a beer or how to cope as a tired new mother.

A key aspect of many sessions was matching authors with a worthy conversation counterpart - often a local writer. The combinations chosen were perfect. Knowledge, sensitivity and gentle encouragement combined, and creative confidences were forthcoming. Audiences were entertained, enlightened, challenged and moved.

Wellington poet Bill Manhire made audiences cry, Bluff poet Cilla McQueen and English novelist and theatremaker Stella Duffy cried in their own sessions. A two-hour session with New Zealand's poet laureates was a rare treat at which Rob Tuwhare also performed a moving musical tribute to his late father, Hone Tuwhare.

Briton Rebecca Vaughan's one-woman adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was spellbinding, readings of Victor Rodger's Polynesian-hued plays were forthright and funny. Roger Shepherd talked about his Flying Nun record label with local musicians and industry insiders and the crowd rocked to performances by Dunedin Sound legends Graeme Downes, Francisca Griffin and Robert Scott.

Australian novelist Hannah Kent inspired with her youth, energy and humility, British journalist and author John Lanchester subdued audiences with his sobering insights into the global financial crisis, Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin spoke of the enduring appeal of his fictional creation John Rebus, and Hamilton writer Catherine Chidgey impressed with insights into her new novel of Nazi Germany.

Seventy years of Landfall, our foremost and longest-running literary journal, was celebrated. The second volume of the journals of one of Dunedin's literary forefathers, Charles Brasch (founding editor of Landfall), was launched.

There were events for children (and adults alike), showcasing the skills and imaginations of author illustrators.

Attendees kept the retail tills ringing and ensured they lined up for their favourite authors' signatures on their crisp new purchases.

The festival organisers - who are largely book-loving volunteers - should once again be congratulated on their efforts and their success. They provided a well-organised, lively and engaging event, a literary smorgasbord that attracted people from all over New Zealand and further afield.

As a city and province we are fortunate to have people with vision and determination, energy and enthusiasm to ensure such events exist and locals are spoilt for choice.

Dunedin: it really is all ''write'' here.

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