One Question Quiz
(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

BooksMarch 25, 2023

What not to miss at the Auckland Writers Festival 2023

(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

The Auckland Writers Festival has just launched its 23rd programme, the first since Covid to include its signature line-up of visiting international writers. With 160 events to choose from, here’s books editor Claire Mabey’s top 10 to help you navigate your way through the lit fest universe.

Straight Up: Ruby Tui

I’m deadly jealous that our fearless leader Madeleine Chapman is going to be on the same stage as Ruby Tui and also talking to her on intimate terms about her exceptional memoir. Straight Up was my book of the year in 2022, and I’m still thinking about it. Tui’s story from childhood to international rugby stardom is no linear ride and I suspect that Chapman and Tui will present a sparky, insightful conversation come May. I’ll be there.

Two-Spirit: Joshua Whitehead, Ellen van Neerven, Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall

Tauhou by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall is one of the best books I read in 2022; I’ve followed Ellen van Neerven’s work for a decade after seeing them read their work in 2013; and have recently discovered Joshua Whitehead who, if you haven’t yet found yourself, you can learn about here, and view a reading online here. Predicting that this collision of talent will be a highlight of the festival.

L-R: Graci Kim, Albert Cho and Joanna Cho (Photo: Auckland Writers Festival)

Korean Influence: Joanna Cho, Albert Cho, Graci Kim

It’s always intriguing when three entirely different writers are brought together for one slim hour. Joanna Cho is a poet; Albert Cho is a food critic and memoirist; and Graci Kim is a best-selling YA novelist. In this session they will: “explore the influence their South Korean origins have had on their approach to fiction, memoir, poetry and life.” As a fan of each writer I’m thrilled by the chance to see them under one roof, but also, given how each writer has a talent for humour and adventure, anticipating a high-energy conversation that will likely leave us wanting a lot more.

The Original Influencers: Sue McCauley, Barbara Else

A line in the copy for this reads: “Both novels were popular not only because they challenged a few social mores of the time, but also because they reeked of personal truth.” Can a book reek? Would you want to read the book that reeks? Anyway. I’ll be at this event because Sue McCauley’s novel Other Halves (1982), and Barbara Else’s The Warrior Queen (1992) are legendary among the web of punk domestic novels in Aoteroa’s history and I am anticipating that this session might reek of even more personal truths. 

Daniel Lavery and Tom Sainsbury (Photo: Auckland Writers Festival)

Dear Prudence: Daniel Lavery

Send in your catastrophes, conundrums, vexations! Send them by 14 May to and then go to the live event in which our own Tom Sainsbury will join American author Daniel Lavery to give advice, live. If you’re unfamiliar with Dear Prudence then get thee to Between 2016 – 2021 Lavery was “Prudie” and developed a multi-million reader cult following. Sidenote: I’ll be talking to Lavery about his other book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, and we are going to nerd out and you can send me any questions for Daniel that you’re desperate for me to ask.

The Booker Ride: Eleanor Catton, Bernadine Evaristo, Shehan Karunatilaka

I just saw Shehan Karunatilaka speak at an event in Wellington and he was both generous and hilarious. I got the impression that he’s riding a golden post-prize high and I wondered how long that feeling lasts. Does the elation rapidly deflate upon the drafting of the next book? Well, this is the conversation to answer that question. With veteran winners Catton and Evaristo joining the most recent Booker-ised writer, I’m picking some stone cold truths, and gossipy titbits about the Booker world itself? Hopefully. Also hard to imagine this combination of authors every happening again so, get in.

The Books that Made Me (the Sunday 21 May edition)

Sessions about reading always feel like a cosy seat by the fireplace amid a whirlwind of events about writing and big ideas. This series of events brings together an eclectic bunch of writers to discuss their reading lives. The Sunday group is Kate De Goldi (novelist and children’s author and literacy advocate), Simone Kaho (poet), Richard Fidler (legendary Australian radio host and travel writer) and Katherena Vermette (poet and novelist). I could listen to De Goldi talk about books and reading all day (the voice! The energy!) and will be there with my nerd notebook scribbling down the recs from all four: who knows what will happen.

On Never Giving Up: Bernadine Evaristo

I was lucky enough to hear Bernadine speak back in 2019 in the UK when the Booker Prize shortlist events were doing the rounds. Evaristo was eloquent, fiery, and at times obviously exhausted by sudden and intense spotlight after actual decades of being a consistently excellent writer. I always felt that Evaristo was short-changed by the joint win with Margaret Atwood – The Testaments is far from Atwood’s best work and nowhere near the excellence of Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Not that Evaristo ever expressed any disappointment. Nevertheless, I’m curious about the post-Booker life and hope that the chair, Paula Morris, asks about the influence of Keri Hulme’s the bone people on her literary style.

Dr Monty Soutar (Photo: Auckland Writers Festival)

For Such a Time As This: Dr Monty Soutar

Soutar’s novel (the first in a trilogy) Kāwai is shortlisted for the fiction prize in this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The scale of Soutar’s ambition married with the extraordinary weight of his knowledge (he is an acclaimed historian) makes for an impressive project. With the always-excellent Stacey Morrison interviewing, this conversation will be inspirational for anyone who secretly wants to be a writer but is shy to make the commitment and step out onto the edge of the unknown (which apparently is a lot of us according to this which revealed that “writer” is the dream gig for the majority of New Zealanders). 


Streetside is Auckland’s version of Wellington’s LitCrawl: a fast-paced, quick-fire mish-mash of events that take place in venues like shops and bars and galleries. It’s like a giant, excitable exhale after conformity of the Aotea Centre and the hour-long+ conversations that usually happen there. For this 2023 Streetside is in Britomart, what I like to think of as the country’s poshest, most fairy-lit dockside. Also appears that swag could be included with this little morsel in the copy: “Win a Deadly Ponies bag or earn yourself a pair of Allbirds.” Nothing like a bit of expensive apparel to lure the cool kids to a books festival. Top marks.

The Auckland Writers Festival takes place between 16 – 21 May at the Aotea Centre in Tāmaki Makaurau. View the full programme online here

Eleanor Catton is also appearing in events in Wellington (with Verb Wellington) and Christchurch (with WORD Christchurch).

Keep going!