Skip to main content
Media Releases

Auckland Writers Festival Launches Its Most Ambitious Programme Yet

By March 16, 2017No Comments

New Zealand’s Largest Literary Festival Launches Its Most Expansive Programme Yet

The 18th Auckland Writers Festival takes to the sea, the pavement, festival halls and a glittering pop-up venue in its most ambitious programme yet, which sees a record 42 international writers, historians, scientists, radicals and thinkers team with the world’s largest showcase of New Zealand literary talent in Auckland city from 16-21 May.

Scotland’s Ian Rankin – one of the world’s greatest detective novelists features, as does Scottish writer, television director and satirical creator of The Thick of It and Veep Armando Iannucci; US 2016 Man Booker Prize-winning novelist Paul Beatty; US feminist icons  Susan Faludi and Roxane Gay; Kiwi medical doctor and poet Glenn Colquhoun; US Academy Award-winning writer, George Saunders, whose novel Lincoln in the Bardo has just debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list; three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, US foreign correspondent and writer Thomas Friedman; multi-award winning English novelist and journalist John Lanchester; Commonwealth Prize-winning New Zealand novelist Catherine Chidgey; US scientist James Gleick and his compatriot, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss; New Zealand’s most respected theologian, 99-year-old Lloyd Geering on stage with broadcaster John Campbell;  Man Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist Anne Enright;  New Zealand/English actress, playwright and novelist Stella Duffy; Canadian transgender writer, film maker and songwriter Ivan Coyote; outspoken Australian broadcaster and memoirist Stan Grant; English Masterchef judge and food critic for The Observer, Jay Rayner;  local best-selling novelist Jenny Pattrick;  poet and novelist Apirana Taylor of Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Porou and Taranaki descent. British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy returns, as does sensational English actress Rebecca Vaughan with a solo retelling of Jane Eyre, following Festival sell-outs of Austen’s Women (2014) and Mrs Dalloway (2015).

The Festival has grown exponentially and is now the largest literary event in New Zealand, hosting more than 160 writers over six days of ideas, readings, debates, stand-up poetry, literary theatre, children’s writers and free public and family events. Last year, Festival attendance topped 65,000 and many events sold out.

Festival director, Anne O’Brien, says the timing is right to expand the festival’s footprint.

“The last few years has seen unprecedented interest in the Festival from audiences who travel not only from all over Auckland, but around the country and abroad to listen to globally lauded writers and ideas men and women who deepen our thinking, make us laugh, move us and help us to make sense of this increasingly complicated world.

“I am thrilled to launch the most varied and expansive programme in the Festival’s history.”

Armando Iannucci appears early, on 29 April, in the Auckland Town Hall. The Glaswegian screenwriting legend greatly admires Charles Dickens and the Pope, but not former UK prime minister, the “bum-faced southern ponce” David Cameron. Expect an evening of unbridled hilarity from this master of satire.

The Heartland Festival Room – known to many as the Pacific Crystal Palace – takes pride of place for the first time in the centre of Aotea Square across the festival period. Audiences will be treated to entertainment through the day and late into the night, including Graham Norton style ‘on the couch’ salons hosted by long-time writing collaborators Chris Parker and Tom Sainsbury, and playwright, actress and OBE knighted novelist Stella Duffy.

Heartland Bank is a new, platinum sponsor for the Festival and Ms O’Brien says its support is wonderful news for the arts and a tribute to Heartland’s vision for New Zealand.

“There is a real synergy between our respective brands, with our roots stretching the breadth of New Zealand and our shared ambitions to enrich people’s lives.”  

The Festival takes to the gulf on a charter boat all day on Wednesday 17 May with the author of The Story of the Hauraki Gulf, Raewyn Peart. Hear the fascinating story of this vulnerable territory whilst cruising past Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe and the Noises, around the back of Waiheke, down to Rotoroa Island, where passengers can alight, before returning to downtown Auckland.

Take a Walk on High Street with the Festival on Friday 19 May and see the inner city boulevard in a different light, as you go on a word trail where more than 20 writers perform Insta-essays, music, spoken word, games and theatre.

The country’s premier book honours – the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – is the first public event of the programme at the Aotea Centre on Tuesday 16 May. Come and see who takes home the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, and congratulate the winners of the Poetry category, the Illustrated Non-Fiction category and the inaugural Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction with comedienne and writer Michele A’Court as MC.

Five of Auckland’s brightest spoken word artists take to the stage with three globally lauded performer greats, in an unprecedented showcase of talent in Best of the Best: Spoken Word Showcase at the Town Hall on Saturday 20 May.

Voted Britain’s most influential food and drink columnist, The Observer’s restaurant critic, Masterchef judge and author, Jay Rayner, tells us if it is ever OK to covet thy neighbour’s oxen or eat with your hands in The Ten Food Commandments on Friday 19 May at the Aotea Centre; and entertains at a Masu lunch the day before.

Festival week sees a corner of Aotea Square come alive each night with text projections in Pop Poetry: Love Letters, in association with Auckland Council and the Waitematā Local Board. A sparkling collection of intrepid writers join the fun, with one a night writing live but anonymously and only revealing themselves as they sign off…

Join UK writer John Lanchester, Australian broadcaster Stan Grant, New Zealand writer Paula Morris and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Susan Faludi in The University of Auckland Festival Forum, which this year discusses The Great Divide on Wednesday 17 May in the Aotea Centre. The time is now to debate such hotly debated issues as wealth and poverty, race, gender and geographies.

Always a sell-out, this year’s Festival Gala Night is True Stories Told Live: The Heart of the Matter on Thursday 18 May at the Aotea Centre. Gina Cole (NZ); Glenn Colquhoun (NZ); Ivan Coyote (Canada), Anne Enright (Ireland); Lloyd Geering (NZ); Ha Jin (China); Ian Rankin (Scotland); and Mpho Tutu van Furth (South Africa) tell us a seven minute true story propless and scriptless. Expect these stories from the heart to linger with you long after the lights go down.

British Block-buster children’s literary star, creator of Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort, Lauren Child, will have the under 10s enraptured on Saturday morning in the Aotea Centre and on Sunday morning we celebrate everyone’s favourite magician’s 20th birthday in Harry Potter Hijinks with Professor Frankie including spells duels, quidditch demos, trivia questions and prizes. Family Day runs all day Sunday 21 May in the Heartland Festival Room in Aotea Square and in the Herald Theatre supported by the Freemason’s Foundation. Young readers will be treated to free readings, performances, storytelling with presenters including Tanya Batt, Sacha Cotter & Josh Morgan, Carol Ann Duffy, Toby Morris, Simon Pollard and Apirana Taylor.

The Festival finale on Sunday afternoon is an hour with Honoured New Zealand Writer, Dame Fiona Kidman. Respected for her warmth, humour and insight, Fiona Kidman has published more than thirty works—fiction, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and plays to date. Join us in this free event paying tribute to one of our finest writers.

Ms O’Brien says it’s a privilege to present such diverse and talented writers from here and around the world in Auckland settings.

“I encourage everyone from aged two to 102, to come along and engage with words and ideas offered in song, stand-up, performances, prose, in debates and conversations, at venues from boats and tents to galleries and theatres.”

The 2017 Auckland Writers Festival programme is launched at an invitation-only event at the Auckland Art Gallery on the evening of Wednesday 15 March.

A preferential booking period for Festival Patrons and Friends follows, with public tickets on sale from 9.00am, Friday 17 March from

The Auckland Writers Festival warmly thanks new Platinum Partner: Heartland Bank; Gold Partners: The University of Auckland, Freemasons Foundation, Ockham, SPARK, Creative New Zealand and ATEED; and all our Silver, Bronze and Supporting Partners.

We are also enormously grateful to our Festival patrons for their enthusiasm and generosity.

Go to for more information on appearing writers and their events.



16 May                 Auckland Writers Festival Schools Programme (Aotea Centre)

Ockham New Zealand Book Awards winners’ ceremony (Aotea Centre)

16-21 May           Pop Poetry in the Square: Love Letters (Aotea Square)

17 May                 Auckland Writers Festival Schools’ Programme (Aotea Centre)

The University of Auckland Festival Forum (Aotea Centre)

                                Take to the Gulf: Raewyn Peart (Hauraki Gulf charter boat)

18 May Auckland Writers Festival Schools’ Programme (Aotea Centre)

Festival Gala Night (Aotea Centre)

19-21 May           Public Festival programme (Aotea Centre, Auckland Art Gallery, Heartland Festival Room in Aotea Square, Auckland Museum)

19 May                 Walk on High (High Street, Auckland central – various venues)

20 May                 Best of the Best: Spoken Word Showcase (Auckland Town Hall)

21 May                 FREE Family Day Programme. (Herald Theatre, Heartland Festival Room in Aotea Square)

Honoured New Zealand Writer event (Aotea Centre, free entry)

For further information, interview opportunities, author and book images please contact: Penny Hartill, director, hPR, 09 445 7525, 021 721 424,                 

@AklWritersFest     #awf17