We’re still on a high from the fabulous experience that was the inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival in Ohakune last weekend. We were pretty sure it would be a fun and worthwhile event, but it exceeded our expectations in every way. Several participants, including Elizabeth Knox and Paula Green, said was the best festival they’ve ever been to!
From the opening event on Thursday, which was opened with a karakia by Hune Rapana of local iwi Ngati Rangi and was MCed by Johnny Greene, Head of English at Ruapehu College, we started to suspect we were in for something special. As those of you who were there will know, on Friday, as more and more people arrived, we enjoyed session after session of articulate and brilliant ideas and readings. By Friday afternoon, the room we used for most sessions had reached its capacity of 80–100, and the spill-over people were lounging in the hallway or sitting on the deck, listening through the open French doors. Also through open doors we could hear the bubbling of a stream across the road, and a couple of times a day the speakers needed to pause for a few moments while a train went past on the nearby Main Trunk Line.
It’s hard to pick out highlights, as there were so many and everyone will have their own favourites, but many people have waxed lyrical about Writers Talk: Structure, with Pip Adam, Emily Perkins and Fiona Farrell, chaired by Fergus Barrowman. It’s hard to convey quite how a technical discussion also became a conversation about values, ethics and love, but it did. It was all topped off by an intense reading by Fiona Farrell from her The Villa at the Edge of the Empire (a non-fiction finalist at the Ockham Book Awards), which led to quivering lips and damp cheeks around the room. Another highlight was the Waterfall Walk, where many festival participants walked to the beautiful Waitonga Falls, guided by Fred Clarke (Ngati Rangi), who told stories of the mountain and rivers, and explained local customs. Others have singled out the Poets who Cycle session – followed by a bike ride – the poetry slam, Elizabeth Knox’s lecture on writing memoir and the various sessions on place as other favourites.
For many the biggest highlight was the friendly and informal atmosphere, and getting to hang out with many like-minded people in the beautiful surroundings. Writers and readers from around the North Island (plus at least one South Islander!), including a large number of locals, took part in the sessions as participants or audience members. And in fact, as Fergus Barrowman pointed out, the festival became a korero, that everyone was part of, which continued between and after the sessions, and is still resonating even now.
For other impressions of the festival:
- listen to Allan Drew’s review on Radio New Zealand National
- read Paula Green’s post on NZ Poetry Shelf
- read a post by Marion Castree of Vic Books, who ran the festival book stall.