The Auckland Writers Festival – the voices of U.S. writers in New Zealand
Guest post by Jessica Marshall, U.S. Embassy Youth Council member.
The Auckland Writers Festival is hosted annually in Tāmaki Makaurau, only pausing for COVID in 2020. Making a comeback in 2021, this year’s event garnered an audience of over 60,000 during the six-day program, offered as a hybrid of livestreamed and in-venue events. While most international creatives presented virtually, those writers based in Aotearoa celebrated through in-person kōrero, performance, talks, poetry, reading and writing. The U.S. Embassy supported this year’s festival to share the voices of U.S. writers currently in New Zealand.
As a Youth Council member, I was offered the opportunity to attend a special event, An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (both from the U.S.). It’s an opportunity I snapped up quickly, as both a lover of writers’ festivals and Neil Gaiman’s work. Gaiman was a writer I discovered as a teenager when a friend handed me their copy of Stardust and told me I had to read it.
Meanwhile, Amanda Palmer is someone I only discovered through social media – she’s prone to many a twitter maelstrom, a subject of discussion during the event (turns out Kiwis don’t like being referred to as “nice”).
Even if Gaiman’s name was first on the masthead – even if Gaiman was the person I was there to hear from – it was some of Palmer’s points that seemed most salient to me. Midway through the show, she spoke about the experience of being in New Zealand with her son, Ash, during lockdown.
A bit of context here: Palmer – who is married to Gaiman – was finishing off her New Zealand tour in Havelock North when the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. She and her son ended up staying in Havelock North for ten months while Gaiman flew back to the Isle of Wight.
She says that the community she had built, of friends and family, was based in the United States – in Boston and New York, but because of the craziness that was 2020, she was doing it in New Zealand.
That’s an experience I think many can relate to, my mother among them. You see, a couple of months after I was born, my mum’s family moved to New Zealand, she was left with a partner who was never around – and difficult to bear when he was around – and a best friend. In 2004, she split from my father and dragged a sports bag and three kids halfway across the world to the safety of New Zealand, to a home, to family, to a community.
That is our immigrant experience in a nutshell. I recognise that, in actuality, it’s not a very difficult one. Aside from a heck of a lot of paperwork and time, it wasn’t really a struggle to get into this country pre-Covid, but that’s because we were fortunate despite everything going on in the UK. My mum had skills that filled a role listed in the shortages list, we had family
It’s weird that I heard Palmer’s version of the immigrant experience, remembering my own, having just days before seen a parliamentary debate on that very topic.
The last 12 months have been defined by community building to an extent. Amidst the very first lockdown (the same one that saw Amanda Palmer start a new life in Havelock North), I delved into a very bookish community located on Instagram. I found a new place to discuss books and writing and sometimes politics.
Palmer, at the same time, was finding a place wholly different – and much more isolated – than she was used to. She was rebuilding. In January 2021, Palmer’s husband returned to New Zealand and the pair are now based on Waiheke Island. Once again, they are rebuilding.
In my experience, that’s the immigrant experience in a nutshell… it’s rebuilding.
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