WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival: 'Entertaining and brilliant'
A mortician, an environmentalist and a cartoonist walk into a festival...
Also former sex workers, musicians, independent publishers and Americans alarmed by their loopy presidential campaign.
The biennial WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival brings together a diversity of voices for five days next month, traversing themes of feminism, gender, migration, indigenous peoples' rights and climate change.
Literary director Rachael King says she is particularly looking forward to seeing Los Angeles-based mortician Caitlin Doughty, a leading proponent of the "natural death" movement, which advocates chemical-free burials and an end to the death-industrial complex.
"Apart from her book [Smoke Gets in Your Eyes] being amazing, I also caught her at the Sydney festival and she was articulate, entertaining and just brilliant," says King. "I think she'll challenge people's conceptions about life and death."
Doughty will appear at several sessions, including one with Lecretia Seales' husband Matt Vickers, who has written Lecretia's Choice about why his late wife pushed so hard for legalised assisted dying.
Another highlight is Tim Flannery, speaking on his new book Atmosphere of Hope, about how to avert climate disaster. "I like the fact that he has hope in the title," says King. "He outlines some of the technologies available to help with the upcoming catastrophe."
In a similar vein, science writer Alok Jha (The Water Book, 50 Ways the World Could End) will talk about that precious commodity water: who it belongs to, what it's worth, and how to keep it clean.
Canadian spoken word performer Ivan Coyote tackles gender identity with wit and grace. "Ivan is incredibly warm and intelligent and tells these amazing family stories that just get you in the gut, with a twinkle in the eye as well. I think Ivan will be a huge hit."
Broadcaster John Campbell chairs a gala session called The Stars Are on Fire, a festival taster featuring Ockham New Zealand Book Award-winner Stephen Daisley, US television writer Steve Hely, poet Tusiata Avia, songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, Doughty and Coyote.
The American young adult writer David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing; Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green) will present the Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture to celebrate her "extraordinary imagination". He will speak on diversity in literature.
Canadian-Australian writer Tara Moss will talk about the importance of female voices in the public sphere. Her new book Speaking Out is a primer for women and girls who have something to say, but may lack the confidence and skills to deliver it.
The panel session Work/Sex will have particular resonance for Christchurch people following the murder of Renee Duckmanton. "Christchurch doesn't treat its sex workers very well," notes King. "There is a lot to say."
The Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel will be presented following the Joe Bennett-led Great New Zealand Crime Debate, with the moot 'That we would if if we couldn't get caught'.
And on a personal level, King says she is excited to celebrate the publication of In Love With These These Times: My Life with Flying Nun Records by label founder Roger Shepherd.
"I used to play in several Flying Nun bands in my youth."
The WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival runs from August 25 to 28. For more information, see wordchristchurch.co.nz