When you think of Hawke’s Bay, do you imagine a literary hub – a thriving centre of writing and publishing? If you don’t, look a little closer. There is a growing number of events and activities to keep word-lovers engaged and challenged, and there seems to be something in the air that keeps writers’ words flowing too.

The Hawke’s Bay Readers and Writers Festival falls in odd years (opposite the national Poet Laureate celebrations, which take place here in even years) and is produced by the Writers in Wineries Trust, where I – cards on the table – serve as a trustee, along with four others.

Our team is in excited preparation mode for the event this year. However, as BayBuzz goes to print, we’ve have hit a significant funding snag, which we are working to overcome. So while the festival organisers are totally committed to bringing together a fantastic literary offering for the community, the festival that has been planned for June might now need to be postponed or scaled-down.

We’re looking at the positives in this challenge. The festival has been evolving for many years now, and this may turn out to be an opportunity for even more positive change.

Carla Crosbie works for Hastings District Libraries as Community Liaison and Promotions Coordinator, and chairs the Writers in Wineries Trust. She explains that the festival began as a series of literary events held in the barrel rooms of Te Mata Estate Winery, and grew to become the Hastings Festival of Writers, and then in the planning stages of this year’s event, to a regional festival. This year, along with a new logo and name and an enticing line-up of writers and events, comes a new focus to spread the literary love a little wider. Of the four main events planned for this year’s festival, two will take place at Napier venues, one in Havelock North and one in Hastings.

And while it’s no Auckland Writers and Readers Festival (15-19 May) or Writers and Readers Week (Wellington, March 2014), our local festival is certainly drawing some top-notch visiting writers. In 2011 American literary heavyweight Annie Proulx featured alongside poets Jenny Bornholdt and Cilla McQueen, novelists Owen Marshall and Jenny Pattrick, wine writer John Saker and foodie Hester Guy.

This year, we’re planning on hosting Hawke’s Bay-based writers Peter Wells, Anna MacKenzie, Adele Broadbent, Aaron Topp, Mary-anne Scott, and Marty Smith, and chairs Jonathan Krebs, Keith Newman, award-winning American author Cheryl Pearl Sucher and flautist and tenor José Aparicio. Acclaimed performance and page poet Tusiata Avia, novelists Tim Wilson (Their Faces Were Shining and The Desolation Angel) and Rachael King (The Sound of Butterflies, Magpie Hall and Red Rocks), 2013 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, historian and anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond, and foodie, biographer and art writer and curator Alexa Johnston are set to feature as guest writers.

As we continue to develop and evolve the festival, and face the financial and logistical challenges of producing an event like this relying on voluntary time and labour, we’re open to hearing the views of others – suggestions for events and formats, and even a sign of whether you’d rather see this as a weekend-long festival or a series of events throughout the year. And of course we’d be delighted to receive your contributions and thoughts on building a firm funding base. You’re welcome to contact us through our website (hbreadersandwriters.co.nz) or Facebook page.

Beyond the festival

But as I mentioned, the festival is not the only thing that stops Hawke’s Bay from feeling like the place literature forgot, and keeps book-geeks like me from running back to Wellington. Hastings City Art Gallery has hosted two book launches already this year – designer David Trubridge’s beautiful autobiographical tome So Far and former NZ Post Children’s Book Award winner Anna MacKenzie’s recent young adult fantasy Cattra’s Legacy. And both events had healthy and enthusiastic turn-outs from the public.

Hawke’s Bay has a rich element of poetry too – from New Zealand’s oldest active Live Poets group, who meet monthly at the Hastings Community Art Centre, to a poetry conference planned for Havelock North in November. Thanks to the New Zealand Poet Laureate Award originally being the Te Mata Poet Laureate, this region is also the base for the biennial laureate celebration weekend, which is based at Matahiwi marae.

Back in May, Beattie and Forbes Bookshop in Napier was the venue for the Napier session of the Rocky Outcrop Writers Tour. The tour of the lower North Island saw exciting emerging Wellington writers Pip Adam, Ashleigh Young and Kirsten McDougall team up with a local writer in each centre – in our case, poet Marty Smith – to introduce and read from their recently published books and talk writing.

Again, a worthwhile number of book enthusiasts showed up, as Megan Landon from Beattie and Forbes says, Napier’s popular independent bookstore is frequently the venue of well-patronised literary events, from regular book club meetings to launches. “Aside from our popular book clubs we host two or three author events and a similar number of book launches, shopping evenings for parents or book clubs, and we have a piano which is played regularly and used for occasional recitals. We regularly get 50–100 people at these events.”

And while none of this year’s Hawke’s Bay Readers and Writers Festival events are planned to take place at Beattie and Forbes, Megan is pleased with the move to include Napier in our eventual line-up of sessions. “In previous years we have noted that the audience for the Hastings festival contains a strong representation from Napier and hopefully this will open it even further to those who have difficulty getting to Hastings. I am particularly pleased that the chairs and some of the authors are from Hawke’s Bay, this will help to raise the profile further and celebrate our home-grown talent.”

Organisers of the festival agree that the involvement of locally-based authors is something we want to increase. There are many fantastic writers working in a wide variety of genres here in the Bay, and the idea is to include as many as possible in the events of the festival as it continues.

As with all arts activities in Hawke’s Bay, the festival and the rest of these events and activities need continually growing audiences in order to remain viable. So whether the festival is postponed until later in the year, broken up into a series of spaced-out events, or left as planned, keep an ear and an eye out for what’s coming up, and head along and listen to some stories.

For all the latest information on the Hawke’s Bay Readers and Writers Festival, and any changes to the programme of events, see hbreadersandwriters.co.nz

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