AUCKLAND WRITERS FESTIVAL 2019

Updated: May 19, 2019

50 excited students. Three excited teachers. By 8.30ish on Wednesday morning we were packed in our bus with nary a seat to spare. After a coffee break in Katikati we reached Sylvia Park where shoes seemed to be the hot ticket item. Before long we found ourselves at our accommodation for the night - three smallish lifts for 53 people. You can imagine the chaos.


After settling in the students had some time to themselves before meeting back with the staff and traipsing off to a comedy show. A first for many of our students. The four comedians and host had the majority of us in stitches. Jokes that covered things from 90s dance routines to self serve petrol stations. No one was safe - especially the unfortunate couple in the front row...


Jeremy Corbett happened to be sitting in the front row and some of our brave students went up to ask for a photo during half time.


Thursday morning was an early start for some and a slightly rushed start for others but we were checked out and seated in the stalls at Aotea Centre ready for the first speaker of the day - “The Book Thief” author, Markus Zusak. Zusak began by asking us questions before launching into two stories. It was through telling these stories, one about being robbed and one about pranking his brother, that he subtly taught us how to be better writers. It’s the small details he explained, the background of the characters, and the unexpected. These are some of the things that make stories real.


Markus Zusak sharing the secrets of great writing. It’s all in crafting the detail, the unexpected and the background to the action.


Markus Zusak with Maia Alexandre and Jada Melbourne


Next was Akala, a Hip Hop Shakespeare enthusiast. The students were quickly drawn in when he asked if we could identify Shakespeare or Hip Hop in a series of lyrics from that he shared. From there in he gave a run down on the reality of Shakespeare’s time and how Hip Hop has been inspired by Shakespeare’s use of rhyme and rhythm. He cited Nas, RZA, and even Jay Z. He showcased his verbal dexterity with a masterfully crafted Comedy, Tragedy, History rap that squeezed 27 of Shakespeare’s plays and then some of the bard’s most famed quotes into a slam dunk of auditory delight. He also reminded us that language is to be heard and invited us to consider where the word “audience” even derives from which is from the word “auditory” (to hear).

Ms Bowe was quick to head out with some of the students to meet Markus and Akala during our

quick lunch break.


Akala teaching the iambic pentameter through rap

Akala and Jada Melbourne

We returned to listen to Eileen Merriman, a New Zealand author and doctor, who shared how writing is a cathartic experience. She writes everyday after she finishes her shift as a hematologist. Merriman read passages from her new book before taking questions that revolved around the characters from her earlier books and the art of balancing her job and her passion.

Our final session was with Val Emmich - an American singer/songwriter and actor. His vulnerability and honesty onstage was humbling and raw. He spoke openly about his struggles with anxiety and depression which struck a chord with many of the audience. He played a song from his latest album before talking about how he was asked to write the novelisation of the Tony Award winning show Dear Evan Hansen. Emmich gave several poignant pieces of advice:

Turn your weaknesses into strengths.

The things that hold you back can also push you forward.

The thing that you keep to yourself, might be the very thing that helps you connect with others.

He left us with some thoughtful points to ponder before heading out for signings.

Again Ms Bowe and some students were quick to get in and meet with both Val Emmich and Eileen Merriman.


Val Emmich with Nicola Bowe, Tessa Dodson, Suzannah Wilson and Lara Petifer

Finally, it was a short walk to the bus and a goodbye to Auckland and the Lime scooters as we made our way home.



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