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Father-daughter duo inspires as writers’ festival curators

Curators Matariki and Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) wanted to defy writers’ festival conventions and talk about more than just books.

“If you don’t think writers festivals are for you, maybe this one is,” says Michael.

Yesterday Te Ao Māori News attended the pōwhiri hosted by Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrakei. Otene Hopa was kaikōrero and a rōpu from St Cuthberts College performed waiata.

“Hei ahi kei taku korokoro - my throat holds fire” is the theme for the Māori curation for this year’s Auckland Writers Festival.

The phrase comes from a poem that captured the essence of what the curators were trying to achieve.

Matariki, a poet and filmmaker, is one of the founders of Ngā Hine Pūkōrero, a Māori slam poetry collective.

Curators wanted a kaituhi in a broader sense of the word.

Michael, director and author of ‘Better the Blood’ and ‘Return to Blood’ said they wanted writers, thinkers and changers of Aotearoa, and Matariki said artists, especially Māori artists, are multi-faceted and it was important to showcase that.

“For instance Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke, you might not think of her as a writer, although she’s published books, but it’s important because she’s the youngest person in the country writing legislation for 170 years,” Michael said.

Clarke was part of the kohanga reo generation session of the festival.

When asked about the curatorial process, Matariki said in particular, the kohanga reo session was really important being part of the kohanga generation herself and wanting a session to speak to its influence.

Michael said, “I think there’s a really nice dynamic between us as Gen Z and Boomer, like for instance kohanga is so meaningful to Matariki because she was a kohanga baby, but my uncle John was one of the founders of the movement - Sir John Bennett.”

The intergenerational connection spans not only father and daughter but the entire festival.

Given this is the pair’s second year of curating for Auckland’s Writers Festival we asked if they approached this year any differently.

While the theme was the same, Matariki said, “this year with the kohanga reo generation was a response to the current state of politics in our country, in that sense there is a conversation on what’s happening in our world today.”

Michael said the ‘How to survive’ session asked how, “10,000 people gathered together at Kiingitanga earlier this year. To respond or say, where do we go with the incoming policies and changes. Hard fought for wins for Māori maybe being turned back.”

He called this year’s curation “reactive to where we are now” and wanted to showcase a Māori perspective of facing problems positively, whether they’re mental health or political challenges.

“Also what comes with all those sessions is hope, I think is really important, especially for rangatahi, in this climate, is hope.”