WORD festival offers new views on quake city

19:49, Aug 31 2014
Elizabeth Knox
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Knox

People from outside Christchurch can help Cantabrians to see their strange, ruined and hopeful city in new ways.

Writer Elizabeth Knox sees Christchurch as "a city living in memory and expectation, with ghost streets and dream buildings". It was a typically original view from one of New Zealand's leading writers, who came to the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival yesterday to deliver the first Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture.

The festival has established the lecture to honour the memory of Mahy, the prolific and much-loved Christchurch writer who died in 2012. Knox's lecture covered realism and fantasy in writing, illustrated through profound and often moving examples from her own experience.

On Saturday, architectural writer Reed Kroloff talked about city renewal and offered lessons from his work in Detroit and New Orleans. He was hopeful about Christchurch and identified the Re:Start shopping precinct as a "jaunty" example of urban recovery.

Even as the city becomes more permanent again, "the spirit of it should last", he said.

A member of the audience inevitably asked about Christ Church Cathedral.


"Do you want to be Dresden and put it back the way it was, or do you want to be Hiroshima and look to the future?" Kroloff replied.

Kroloff said that "some piece" of the cathedral should survive, but rebuilding a copy would be "a lie".

"Do something that shows what happened here," he said.

In a session called Tough Stuff, Christchurch journalist Rebecca Macfie talked about "Christchurch fatigue".

"It's become increasingly hard to get space for Christchurch in a magazine published in Auckland," said Macfie, who writes for the Listener.

Macfie also revealed that she told Wellington film-maker Gaylene Preston it was too soon for Preston to make the earthquake series Hope and Wire and it should have been made by someone who lives here.

Preston said that she hoped Cantabrians would one day "embrace" Hope and Wire and that she was disappointed that the series did not make the earthquake a political issue outside Christchurch.

"This big event that's still going on is a national disgrace and it should be part of our election," Preston said.

Other highlights from a busy and successful literary weekend included Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton, novelist NoViolet Bulawayo, poet Anis Mojgani, the many appearances of singer and songwriter Kristin Hersh and two sessions that talked about speech that is permissible and speech that is not.

The first was journalist Steve Braunias with the very droll Christchurch satirist Ben Uffindell, who said that he finds Conservative Party leader Colin Craig "adorable". The second was journalist Finlay Macdonald with the author of On Offence, Richard King.

There was only 60 minutes but they could have talked for hours. The audience would have listened.

The Press