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  • Marissa Oakley Browne

Hooked on the Auckland Writers Festival


I love being a mum but sometimes I need adult conversation and ideas. Going to the Auckland Writers Festival was a massive hit of mental stimulation and a chance for me to listen to the reflections of three bold and intellectually curious authors – Anne Enright, Teju Cole and Paul Beatty. I think I formed brain crushes on all three of them.

First I saw Anne Enright, author of The Gathering and The Green Road. She writes women and children into fiction giving them a voice and humanity that has been neglected in Irish literature. She said, to much laughter from the audience, that “mothers are just human beings that children came out of.” Enright jokes about the media forgetting that sex produces children…not just bikinis. She said having children in her late thirties was an “extreme gig” - and as a mother of advanced maternal age myself (i.e. over thirty-five), I could relate.

Enright’s reading of a Christmas shopping scene from The Green Road was completely absorbing; Constance’s love for each item of shopping and the ritual of selecting goods, made me feel she could be my own mother.

Next up, was Teju Cole, author of Every Day Is for the Thief and Known and Strange Things. He is a self-proclaimed “enthusiast” who writes about what he loves and has a confident and thoughtful stage presence. He values the freedom of writing what he wants to write and is not afraid to completely change genres. Cole says there’s no guarantee a particular book will be popular so he writes each as if it’s his last, with the hope that it will resonate with someone. So much of what he said resonated with me that I think he is onto something and I love the idea of adapting to range of different and exciting projects.

Cole captivated the audience with readings of his drone short stories which he wrote on twitter, where he felt the responsibility of being able to communicate to a large audience and wanted to say something meaningful. He emotively used lines from famous works of literature to begin stories condemning drone attacks on civilians.

Last but not least, came Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout and The White Boy Shuffle. The Sellout was an intense read for me which I found very clever, but it was clear from the audience that many people found it laugh out loud funny. Beatty dislikes being pigeon holed as a satirist, saying that it’s too easy for the term “satire” to be used for deflection when something makes people uncomfortable. On the other hand, he doesn’t mind the word “funny” and likes to see an element of humour in writing. He spoke in front of a packed theatre and took a little while to warm up but towards the end he was really on fire, passionately answering questions about his work.

I left the theatre buzzing with energy, curiosity and the desire to read more. I was hooked on the festival! I could feel my own excitement mirrored in the crowd thrumming around me. Suddenly, I had the urge to lock myself away just to write. I was also marvelling that I had managed to take time away from being a human that a child came out of, and remember that I'm a thinker that likes to observe and interpret the world around me.


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