Sharing the joy of reading and writing

Issue: Volume 96, Number 5

Posted: 27 March 2017
Reference #: 1H9d70

A rich world of literary experience is on offer to primary and secondary school students during the Auckland Writers Festival this May.

Students from three South Auckland schools will attend the Auckland Writers Festival Schools Programme and receive one-on-one mentoring, gratis, in an initiative aimed at fostering Māori and Pasifika writing talent.

More than 90 students from Sir Edmund Hillary College, Otahuhu College and Manurewa High School will be rubbing shoulders with some of the best international and local novelists, poets, illustrators and performers in the programme which commences on 16 May.

Auckland Writers Festival director Anne O’Brien says the initiative aims to provide more students with the opportunity to celebrate reading and hone their own writing skills to assist them in navigating the world around them.

“Books and writing are gateways to a rich and inspiring life that can open doors to a world of ideas. The festival wants to share this vision with the next generation and help build great readers and writers.”

Anne explains that the workshops on offer this year are just a small portion of the schools programme, which attracts between 5,000 and 6,000 students each day.

Participating year 9–13 students are able to attend 45-minute author sessions, and hour-long writing workshops with the festival’s writers. Financial support is offered to schools that might need help with the cost of transport.

“We wanted to ensure that schools who might not otherwise have thought about coming to the festival, or those who might not have the financial resources to bring their students along to the festival, could also take part,” says Anne.

“We do it because we fundamentally believe that language storytelling and books – literacy – is the ticket to a successful life. Everyone is entitled to that and we want to encourage all schools to engage with the festival.”

Writer and university teacher Paula Morris, supported by the Auckland Diversity Fund, will also lead a programme on short story writing around the theme of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ with selected students from the three schools involved in the project.

They will join up to 6,000 primary, intermediate and secondary students from all over New Zealand for three packed days of laughter, learning and inspiration in the Aotea Centre, Auckland, hearing some of the world’s finest literary stars.

The programme for students, which is now in its ninth year, is supported by the Freemasons Foundation.

Among this year’s festival line-up are Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child, writers Ivan Coyote and Hisham Matar, fantasy writer Frances Hardinge, YA writers Jennifer Niven and Amie Kaufman and Shakespeare expert James Shapiro.

They join a cast of local literary luminaries including writers Witi Ihimaera, musician Anna Coddington, animator Zak Waipara, blogger Alex Casey and spoken word poet Mohamed Hassan.

“We are thrilled to host such breadth and depth of writing talent in this year’s schools programme."

“From Shakespeare to blogging, performance poets to long form fiction, writing and reading has and always will be a gateway to understanding the world and ourselves,” says Anne.

For the second year, the festival is producing its own book which every attending intermediate and secondary student will take home free. The book will include illustrations, poems and short stories by Witi Ihimaera, Glenn Colquhoun, Sarah Laing and Renata Hopkins.

“We want to be able to cross genres, dovetail into personal experience, and create an environment where students will feel comfortable, with the aim of coming one step closer to encouraging the next generation of writers and readers."

“This programme is world class, and in terms of student engagement, quite unique,” says Anne.

“This is something we hope to develop over time and we’re always really interested to hear from people working in the education sector, so that our programmes are fit for purpose and relevant."

“We want as many students as possible to come and engage with the festival.”

Festival sessions will be recorded and filmed, and digital packages of the content will be available for schools who are not able to come, for whatever reason.

“There’s nothing like live engagement for kids to get excited about reading and writing – the energy and excitement of being there will invigorate your class. But we’re also really happy we can provide the recordings for teachers to use as a classroom resource.”

Tickets – which are only open for purchase via schools – are now available, but schools are encouraged to book early, as they have sold out in previous years.

For more information, visit the writers festival website(external link)  

Representing voices

David Riley is a drama teacher at Tangaroa College and author who hosted writing workshops for secondary school students at last year’s festival. He says the festival is an integral part of Auckland’s cultural life and the student workshops serve an important purpose.

Last year, David’s workshops centred on writing about a try that rugby league player Shaun Johnson scored for the Warriors.

“We watched the try that he scored, and looked at different ways that you could write about that moment. Each of the students had a different way to describe it,” says David.

“We were focusing on using similes and metaphors, and one student talked about Shaun Johnson being a magician, where another described him as a butcher,” he laughs.

David combines his work as a teacher with writing, and has published 17 biographies of inspiring people for young adult readers through his imprint, Reading Warrior.

“I started writing the biography books for my students because as a teacher, I wasn’t able to find non-fiction books that they really wanted to read."

“At Tangaroa College, our student population is about 98 per cent Māori and Pasifika and when we went to the library it was hard to find things that my students really wanted to read about – books that were written with them in mind,” he explains.

“It was about finding something they were interested in, and in a language that was accessible to them."

“When I asked my students, ‘what do you want to read about?’, they replied ‘Sonny Bill Williams’. So he was the subject of my first book.”

David, who himself was inspired to write after borrowing his father’s Barry Crump novels as a child, emphasises the importance of ensuring Māori and Pasifika student involvement in events such as the Auckland Writers Festival.

“It’s so important because we need everyone’s voices represented,” he says. “The stories of young Māori and Pasifika people need to be told and heard, and become part of the literature of New Zealand.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:14 pm, 27 March 2017

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