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Events & Exhibitions

Kiran Dass – A Guide to This Year’s WORD Festival


Kiran Dass is WORD Christchurch’s programme director extraordinaire – This is her third festival and we asked her what we can expect for WORD 2024.

What is the theme of WORD this year?

WORD always does something different – we really want to celebrate all the different forms of words and writing and so this year there’s quite a bit of music. One event I’m really looking forward to is Vera Ellen, who just won the Taite Music Prize, and she will be talking about her writing and also playing some songs. I also am really proud of the Ngāi Tahu focus we have – and all of these events are free, thanks to our deep relationship with Ngāi Tahu.

There’s also some walking tours?

I really love giving people an experience – and yes, we have some great walking tours this year, The walking tours are such a great way of experiencing our local environment in a different way. For example, Amy Head’s ‘Signs of Life’ walking tour will activate the spaces of Cathedral Square and the Botanic Gardens through the lines and words of her short stories. It allows us to experience places we know through a different lens.

Is the music focus in the programme down to you?

In some ways, music is my first love. I was a music journalist before I worked in the book trade, and I was recently a judge in the Taite Music Prize as well as being a judge in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. I may be the only person to have done both in one year! But the two things are really complimentary – in music you have lyrics and story telling – and for me, it comes back to the experience of immersing yourself. I lalso really wanted to bring a sensory element to the programme and I’m excited about Dr Jo Burzynska’s event, ‘Sensory Texts’ where she will look at ephemeral things such as the smell of paper – and how our senses inform how we perceive literature.

Tell us about your Programmers at Large…

We have superstar poet Tayi Tibble, who is the first New Zealand Māori writer to be featured in the New Yorker, and Jordan Tricklebank who has an amazing instagram account in which he gives new life and elevates new and old Māori writing with his really insightful reviews. Both Jordan and Tayi have each programmed three sessions.

Do you give them parameters in which to programme?

Not really, no. They can pretty much programme whatever they want, so long as it stays in budget. We don’t pigeon hole them at all. It’s great – both of them add a really thoughtful flair to the programme.

You moved to Christchurch a couple of years ago – how are you enjoying it?

I love it. One thing I’m strong on now – I get asked to do a lot of things – and I really love that I can be a Christchurch advocate and South Island representative.  I was the only South Islander on a panel of ten in the Taite Music Prize, for example. It feels good to be here – I feel like it’s a good time to contribute to the cultural vibrancy of the city. At the moment there is so much turmoil in the world and we can often feel helpless, but writers’ festivals are perfect places to come together and elevate the voices that need to be heard. At WORD, people can come and be challenged and intellectually nourished collectively – and that’s a hopeful thing.  It’s such a powerful position and such a privilege.

You’ve got a lot of venues this year.

We have about 14 venues across the city. There are some festivals that are all held in one space – but I like having multiple places – It adds to the intimacy and connection and people can get up close to the writers and performers. It’s also a lovely way for people to engage with the city and the different spaces it offers.

What are you most looking forward to as an audience member?

One of my favourite sessions to programme is The Cabinet of Curiosities Tiny Lectures on the Weird and Wonderful. You never know what you’re going to get. One thing I love about it is that it’s a good way to get an insight into a writer in a weird and wonderful way you’ve not seen before and learn something different about them.

We’re also kicking off the festival with Jesse Mulligan from RNZ hosting a reading party –  where everyone brings their own book – and it’s like a sustained silent reading session -that will be a lot of fun. I’m also very excited about Catherine Taylor from the UK – who was actually born in New Zealand and is named for Katherine Mansfield. her book ‘The Stirrings’ was one of my favourite reads last year. I love having international writers in sessions alongside our local writers. There’s just so much talent around, it’s really inspiring.

Check out the full programme at WORD Christchurch and book your tickets now.

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