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Clockwise from top left: Behrouz Boochani, Samantha Power, Colson Whitehead and Lisa Taddeo. Photos/Getty Images and supplied

Auckland Writers Festival 2020 line-up announced

One of the event’s many big-name authors has opted out of appearing in person.

The Auckland Writers Festival has announced a star-studded line-up for its May event while acknowledging its programme has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and it is prepared for further changes.

Festival Director Anne O’Brien said American author Ann Patchett, who is one of 41 international writers appearing at the festival, has decided against travelling to Auckland. Instead she would be doing a session via Skype.

“In normal circumstances we would simply withdraw Ann from the programme, as we do with cancellations each year but, given her standing and keen audience interest in her work for many years, we have decided as a one-off to make an exception,” said O’Brien at the festival’s launch.  

“The festival’s kaupapa is to present a live festival –  we intend to honour that once again in May and are not anticipating any further format adjustments.

 “There is currently no Ministry of Health restriction on public events and, barring a future restriction on public engagements, we intend to present our festival in May and are proceeding on that basis.”

“Obviously we are watching the Covid-19 situation closely. The health and well-being of our audience and our writers is paramount for us and will remain so over the coming weeks.”

“Any event cancellations will be dealt with in line with the festival’s usual refund policies so ticket buyers should proceed with confidence.”

The festival is hosting one other video-streamed session – with Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong whose book Unfree Speech was released in New Zealand last month.

He’s one of a group of political figures in the programme which also include former Irish president and climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson; former war correspondent and the Obama administration’s ambassador to the UN Samantha Power whose sixth book The Education of an Idealist was released last year; Power’s Harvard law professor husband Cass Sunstein, who was the US Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House and has authored more than 40 works including Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America and The World According to Star WarsLetters to a Young Muslim author and United Arab Emirates diplomat Omar Saif Ghobash; British-French international law specialist Phillipe Sands whose latest book The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive is released next month.

Other headline makers heading to AWF include terrorism-extremism specialist Julia Ebner*, Manus island refugee and Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani; Chanel Miller, who wrote Know My Name about being sexual assault victim “Emily Doe” in the Stanford University rape case; Lisa Taddeo whose 2019 Three Women offered a frank study of the sex and love lives of three American women.  

Among the big fiction names are Bernardine Evaristo, the 2019 Booker Prize joint winner for her Girl, Woman, OtherColson Whitehead, the Pulitzer prize winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys;  best-selling Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers writer Liane Moriarty; British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

Among the dozens of local authors confirmed to appear are Ashleigh Young, Alan Duff, Elizabeth Knox, Lloyd Jones and Eleanor Catton while this year’s festival “honoured writer” will be Otago poet Brian Turner.  

*The new issue of The Listener features an interview with Julia Ebner and a review of the collected works of Tim Flannery, the prominent Australian naturalist and climate change activist who is also appearing at the AWF.

The Auckland Writers Festival runs from May 12 to 17.

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