Over 200 writers, the country’s biggest celebration of New Zealand writing, 20+ internationals, and a major theatre experience.

The Auckland Writers Festival | Waituhi o Tāmaki programme has been announced and, while the 2021 line-up is largely – and proudly – a huge celebration of New Zealand writing and writers, the Festival has secured over 20 internationals and a major theatre work direct from the UK.

The beloved annual festival, which is the largest literary event in Aotearoa and the largest presenter of New Zealand literature in the world, takes place 11 to 16 May this year. The 2021 Festival will present over 200 writers in six jam-packed days of discussion, conversation, reading, debate, performance, schools, family, and free events ranging from fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, theatre, culture, art, and more.

Festival director, Anne O’Brien says, “The 2021 Festival is very much a celebration of us, here and now. While we’ve had to take a slightly different approach this year, given our closed borders, we’ve curated a programme that is as full as ever and even managed to hunt out some international writers based in Aotearoa.

“We’ve also built on our kaupapa of live engagement, with a handful of bespoke digital sessions featuring international writers of note and major award-winners to be delivered direct into venue for our live Festival audience.”

These special events include Nobel Laureate and former Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro, and artist, activist, architect, curator, and filmmaker Ai Weiwei, both of whom will stream live on the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre screen in the Aotea Centre, to be interviewed by an on-stage facilitator.

And, continuing the success of the Festival’s 2020 Covid-19 pivot – a brilliant Winter Series of live online discussions – there will be four live online kōrero with consummate host Paula Morris broadcast into the Aotea Centre. Novelist, feminist, and philanthropist Isabel Allende; actor and memoirist Gabriel Byrne; novelist and short story writer Yiyun Li; renowned novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson; 2020 Costa Novel Award winner Monique Roffey; and 2021 Booker Winner Douglas Stuart join Kiwis based overseas, including award-winning writer and host of the On Writing podcast JP Pomare; award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, poet and script consultant Miro Bilbrough; and Mohamed Hassan, National Slam Champion, and Ockham NZ Book Awards poetry short-lister.

The Festival will welcome a line-up of international writers in-person, including multi-award winning writer for readers of all ages Neil Gaiman; French style influencer Garance Doré; rare book dealer and author Rick Gekoski; Australia’s Victorian Prize for Literature 2021 recipient Laura Jean McKay; forensic pathologist and columnist Judy Melinek with her husband and co-author of her New York Times bestseller Working Stiff; TJ Mitchell; performer Amanda Palmer; and award-winning Australian novelist and former park ranger Carrie Tiffany.

Direct from seasons in London and New York, and in partnership with Auckland Live with additional support from British Council NZ and a group of generous individual donors, Auckland Writers Festival will present one of 2020’s most spectacular new international theatre productions, the Donmar Warehouse’s Blindness.

The theatre adaptation of Nobel Laureate José Saramago’s 1995 novel of the same name, Blindness was originally staged at London’s Donmar Warehouse as the first production delivered to a paying public following the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown. Voiced by actor Juliet Stevenson, it is a thrilling sound installation and immersive theatre experience delivered via headphones in a physically-distanced room, with multiple performances per day.

There is another theatre piece in this year’s programme, too. Hāpai Production’s beautiful and powerful Witi’s Wāhine, based on unforgettable wāhine Māori characters from Witi Ihimaera stories, will have its Auckland debut after two hugely successful seasons in its East Coast home, at Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. The Auckland Writers Festival season is a tribute to the play’s beloved and deeply respected writer, Nancy Brunning, who died shortly after the Gisborne premiere in 2019. It is sponsored by Theresa Gattung.

The Festival’s hosted events and fora are what literature lovers wait the entire year for, with many gorging on multiple events during Festival week.

In 2021 there are over 100 of these, with some highlights below.

Journalist David Cohen, author Caitlin Spice, and author, poet, speaker, and activist Sonya Renee Taylor will take up a debate with Catriona Ferguson about one of the most polarising social movements of our time: cancel culture.

Moana Maniapoto will talk to Reb Fountain, Marlon Williams, and Tom Scott about songwriting.

Book dealer Rick Gekoski will host an intimate lunch at Masu, sharing tales of a world full of legacy and billionaires, priceless books, and mystery.

Architecture writer John Walsh and photographer Patrick Reynolds will lead an exclusive walking tour of some of Auckland’s best architectural buildings.

The Festival’s Ora series, this year curated by Ruby Solly, will present Patricia Grace, Anahera Gilda, and essa may ranapiri delivering a powerful dissection on publishing rights in te ao Māori, and the ways writers and activists are re-indigenising the sharing of Māori stories to provide historical and cultural context to current issues, chaired by Emma Espiner.

Charlotte Grimshaw, Kyle Mewburn, and Lil O’Brien reflect on family histories, and the stories told, lives exposed, and dynamics of revealing the personal, in their remarkable memoirs.

Rising New Zealand thriller writer stars Rose Carlyle, Jacqueline Bublitz, Ray Berard, and Ben Sanders get together to talk international debut success.

Danyl McLauchlan will examine the complexities of being a good person and living a moral life.

Three pre-eminent Pasifika women, Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh, and Karlo Mila, will come together to discuss the pre-occupations that infuse their incredible new books in one of three sessions in Gina Cole’s curated Talanoa series.

Distinguished historian Claudia Orange will kōrero with Hirini Kaa about honouring Te Tiriti and how groundbreaking settlements are setting the course for the future of Aotearoa.

Dr Hinemoa Elder will introduce whakataukī from her beautifully-crafted book, Aroha.

Former political prisoner Behrouz Boochani will talk to Julie Hill about his award-winning book.

Award-winning journalist and recently-appointed editor of the Dominion Post, Anna Fifield will discuss her insights into North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, and Asia more broadly, with the New Zealand Herald’s Simon Wilson.

Celebrated Wellington chef Monique Fiso will discuss the story of kai Māori and her journey from Porirua sandwich-hand to a restaurant owner of one of the ‘100 Greatest Places’ in the world.

Writers, thinkers, and partners Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer will talk with Lucy Lawless in a free-ranging discussion across craft, creativity, and community. Both will also undertake individual sessions.

Dr. Michelle Dickinson (aka Nanogirl), Dr. Peter Gluckman, and Dr. Rangi Matamua will come together to champion science’s role in helping us navigate choppy waters.

Following the release of his memoir, beloved New Zealand artist Dick Frizzell will talk about art and life with Finlay Macdonald.

Carrie Tiffany will deliver a clever and subversive illustrated reading about snakes.

Once called “the guardian of all style” by New York Times Magazine, Corsican-born French style influencer Garance Doré will speak with Wendy Petrie about her writing, style, and inside-and-out-beauty.

A new anthology of 75 emerging Asian writers, A Clear Dawn, co-edited by Paula Morris and Alison Wong, will launch at the Festival along with two other books, Leanne Radojkovich’s new short story collection Hailman and Siobhan Harvey’s Ghosts.

The Festival’s workshop series is always popular among literary followers, fellow writers, and emerging wordsmiths. This year they include a series of online sessions with Kevin Barry (Short Fiction), Mary Karr (The Art of Memoir), Yiyun Li (Storytelling Geometry), Andrew O’Hagan (Unpicking the Essay), Marilynne Robinson (Elements of Craft), Michael Robotham (Compelling Characters in crime writing), Shaun Tan (Picture Book Practice), alongside in-person workshops with Sue Copsey (Self-Editing), David Eggleton (The Bare Essentials in poetry), Rebecca MacFie (True Stories), Eileen Merriman (Crafting YA), Paul Kalburgi (The Writer’s Toolkit), Carl Nixon (Destroying the (Perceived) Constraints of Theatre), and Carrie Tiffany (Collage for Writers).

The Festival’s public days will open in the customary, spectacular way, with the hugely popular Festival Gala. This year, eight terrific writers will take to the stage to tell a true, no-script-no-prop personal story using ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ as their prompt. They include poet and comms queen Kate Camp, Garance Doré, Poet Laureate David Eggleton, Iranian-NZ filmmaker and essayist Ghazaleh Golbakhsh, literary legend Witi Ihimaera, award-winning Australian writer Laura Jean McKay, comedian and author Tom Sainsbury, and poet Fili Fepulea’i Tapua’i, who also appears in the spoken word showcase Auckland Speaks II alongside a stellar line-up including Ngā Hinepūkōrero.

The Festival will close triumphantly with esteemed Kiwi writers – Fiona Kidman, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, Vincent O’Sullvban, CK Stead, Brian Turner (the 2021 Honoured Writer), and Albert Wendt – uniting on stage with Michele A’Court

Tickets are on sale this Friday, 12 March at 9am via Ticketmaster.


For more information, images and interviews, please contact Siobhan Waterhouse on and +64 22 126 4149.


Please find head shots here
Please find book covers here
Please find Blindness images here
Please find event images (collaged) here


Auckland Writers Festival | Waituhi o Tāmaki 2021
11 to 16 May
Venues across Tāmaki Makaurau