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The Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival adds new Chapters for 2021

New Zealand’s one and only official Booktown has lifted the cover on its latest festival, announcing a literary line-up of 99 presenters and 55 events.

The sixth Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival runs 6-9 May and promises to be a bestseller for all ages, including those who like some fish and chips with their author experience. “We love to offer a diverse range of events, so our book festival opens with a ‘Fish’n’Chip Supper’ on Friday March 7. After listening to some music, the former poet laureate, Selina Tusitala Marsh, will share her poetry, and very possibly her own ukulele talents,” said Peter Biggs, the Featherston Booktown Trust chair.

Booktowns are small rural towns or villages in which second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. There are 22 designated Booktowns around the world, including Featherston, which leverage a love of literature to attract visitors to the town during an annual festival and all year round.

Even before the official festival opening, local school children will have been treated to several free events, including the chance to “speed date” an author, be inspired by illustrator and writer Donovan Bixley, or take part in a slam poetry session with some of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s best slam poets, including Te Kahu Rolleston. Selina Tusitala Marsh will also read and discuss her successful book, Mophead.

Then it’s two full-on days of book-related events ranging from the hugely hilarious to the deeply serious with writers of all stripes and types, illustrators, printers, zine-makers, bookbinders, papermakers, podcasters and even crafters sharing how they do what they do, and why.

“We’ve brought back many of our audience favourites, such as the ‘Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea’ and our early morning ‘Who’s on the Couch’ sessions, while also introducing new initiatives. Part of that is an emphasis on emerging writers, and we expect our ‘Life is a Zig Zag’ session about journeys to publication, led by writer Catherine Robertson, to be really popular,” said Mr Biggs.

“Among other highlights are the Show Ponies, Hear Me Roar and the Poetry Collision, which will confirm that poetry can be hilarious and very cool. I’m also looking forward to ‘Mr Sold’s True Stories Told Live’ on the Saturday night, where John Campbell will referee writers sharing their experiences of living in lockdown.”

While most events engage one’s sense of humour, many also engage the brain. The panel discussion, “Do Artists’ Morals Matter?”, will look at cancel culture, while another considers the relevance of the Treaty of Waitangi. In “I’ve been called Lippy: Te Whe”, three generations of outspoken Māori women discuss opinion writing, while Kate Mead spills on her time running Featherston’s Loco Coffee and Books and having characters from near and far hang out on the shop’s many couches. Renée, Nadine Anne Hura and Vincent O’Sullivan will find themselves in the Author Spotlight, while there will be much discussion about the top picks for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Through all this and much, much more, with the support of the South Wairarapa District Council, REAP and ReadNZ Te Pou Muramura, there will be free events for children. “These include, of course, sessions with our own Wairarapa literary icon, Dame Joy Cowley. A new biography about Joy will also be launched at the festival,” said Mr Biggs.

“And for any parent worried about their children not reading, we have a session about that, too, with Dame Joy and Gavin Bishop, two of New Zealand’s top children’s writers.” Meanwhile, families with fervent young readers are invited to the Family Literary Quiz where they can show off their accumulated bookish knowledge.

Among all the talking, there’s also doing, with workshops on offer for those looking to improve their journal keeping, learn to self-publish or print posters, make a zine, or find their “joy” in poetry. And among all the book reading, there will be book buying with more than 20 booksellers setting up stalls in Featherston’s famous ANZAC Hall. Among the customers will be children from the three Featherston schools, along with nearby Kahutara School and years 9-10 at Kuranui College, who have been given a $15 book voucher so they can buy themselves a book – an initiative financed by the festival’s friends and supporters.

Other excitements, such as markets, running the mini fell engine, a children’s treasure trail, and pop-up poetry events will spread the fun to the whole town, which expects at least 7000 people to visit over the weekend.

“After last year, where our festival become ‘Words in Winter’, run over June, July and November, we’re beyond delighted to invite everyone back to Featherston in May,” said Peter Biggs. “We’re also extremely grateful to the on-going support of our extraordinary funders, such as Creative NZ, The Lion Foundation, Trust House, the South Wairarapa District Council, the Macarthy Trust, and – vital in any literary festival – our wine partner, Palliser Estate Wines. It’s going to be a brilliant weekend in Featherston.”

Tickets go on sale to the public Friday 2 April at 9am – buy tickets at Eventfinda

or at the Martinborough and Masterton i-sites.

Note: All events will be ticketed for contact tracing purposes, including the free children’s events.

For more information: Mary Biggs, Featherston Booktown Operations Manager, 0274 836 181,


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