I went to a literature festival a few weeks ago, and I thought that it would be fun to do a whole recap on Virtually Read! This was the first proper book festival I’ve been to—at school we used to have a writing and mountain festival which was cool but a bit random, and I’ve obviously gone to some bookish events, but this was a proper festival. I was going to do lots of things anyway, but then I won some competition on their facebook page and got four tickets to the paid events which was cool. It was sort of at a terrible time (the weekend before I had two exams) but I was pretty over studying at that point anyway, so it was okay.
First of all, what was the festival? It was LitCrawl, in Wellington. The main event is a ‘crawl’, like a pub crawl but through literature events, but there are events throughout the weekend.
The first event I went to was a poetry showcase. It was at a bar, and because I’m an idiot, I forgot my ID. (in my defense, I went to two more events at that bar in the weekend and they didn’t check my ID then so I feel a bit justified in doing that). However I tried my best to look innocent, showed the security guard a photo of my passport, and we were in. Me and my friend who I convinced to come along found a place to sit and we were right next to the stage and it was cool.
And then I saw Kaveh Akbar! Which was not really a surprise, because he was supposed to be reading at the event, but my heart literally sped up and I was like !!!!!! and then I went and bought his book and got him to sign it and was so happy! And then a girl I knew from another one of my classes came by and we talked and it was amazing.
Then the actual event started. So many of the poets were just amazing! I was so hyped that it kind of all blurs together, but Tayi Tibble was very funny, Raymond Antrobus was totally stellar (he got the audience involved and used BSL while he read his poems), and Esme Oliver (who fun fact, goes to the same church as me) sort of broke my heart, and Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s use of Gaelic was incredible and I particularly loved her poem about the city of Cork and another one about finding an old dress. And Kaveh Akbar was totally incandescent, and he read some of his new poetry which was amazing, and he moves a lot when he’s on stage, which makes the whole experience very visceral. There were five languages on stage: English, Irish, Farsi, Maori, and BSL.
Afterwards, I felt alive and buzzing with poetry. My friend wanted to get his book signed so we went back to Kaveh Akbar and had such a nice discussion of with him and he gave us hugs and aaaaagh!! And then we also talked to Doireann Ni Ghriofa, which was especially cool for my friend because she’s Irish and so is he, and I biked home in the rain full of happiness and with two new signed books (and a wounded bank account but whatever, it was 100% worth it)
The next day I went to a really interesting talk with Zoya Patel. She’s an Australian-Fijian-Indian feminist writer and creator. She had some really nuanced things to say about how society doesn’t like there to be complexities to the immigrant experience—for instance, her mother’s family was forced to migrate to Fiji, and her father’s family were economic migrants and then her parents didn’t want to leave Fiji but chose to because they felt like it was their only choice, and then what it was like for her to visit Fiji to see family compared to seeing it as a tourist destination. Lots of it resonated with me. One thing that came up at most of the events I went to was that people are from multiple places, and everyone is dealing with multiple identities in some way. I sort of knew that already but it was good to have it all out loud.
I studied (sorta) in the library for a bit, and then I went home and ran into several friends along the way (because New Zealand is small), and I invited them all to come to the events in the evening, and then promptly forgot about the invite and was very surprised to see them. When the actual crawl began, me and one other friend went to a poetry event at the same bar as the poetry showcase from the previous night. The poets were drawing words out of hats and finding poems on the same topics, which was pure fun, and then they put all the extra words into a spontaneous poem at the end.
We then scrounged up some dinner and all of the people who were coming sort of conglomerated. We wanted to go to a comedy event, but there was no space at the venue (there were three stages, with 6-8 events at each slot, so you had to decide where to go) so we ended up going to a reading about nature in writing which was random but cool, and this author whose graphic novel I loved (Sarah Laing) was there and that was fun.
And then we (now like 7 people) went and chilled in this excellent church. Me and one friend talked for ages while we waited for the event to begin. It was a social justice poetry/music thing—again, totally random, but a lot of fun.
We walked down the street to the afterparty (except two people who wanted to go home/ go to another party. Tbh the afterparty wasn’t as great as I’d hoped but OH WELL. I saw Madeleine Chapman, this journalist who is cool, and took a selfie with her, and talked to a very cool volunteer called Megan. There were other media/literary people of New Zealand who were there, and some music, but I wasn’t drinking and the party generally felt like it was for sophisticated grown ups and was thus sort of thrilling but not all that interesting.
The last event I went to was a flash fiction workshop. I probably would have chosen another workshop if I had looked into it more, but I’ve been wanting to get into flash fiction, and so I was like whatever lets just try this. I think at that point I just wanted to spend some time processing all of the literary goodness I’d accumulated over the weekend, so I was a bit over everything. That’s the thing with literary festivals: there’s so much going on, so many new ideas and words and stories, that it is a bit overwhelming. Going to a proper festival for the first time where I was genuinely invested in lots of the events, I really realized that. But it’s fine, and I will definitely do it next year.
Sorry this post is so long, and good on you for making it to the end. My last piece of advice for those new to book festivals is to bring friends to share the excitement, get food with, and talk to. The whole experience is massively improved with friends.
Have you guys ever been to a literary festival? What was it like? Tell me in the comments!