Review: Durga Chew-Bose & Lang Leav x Auckland Writers Festival 2018.

The Lower NZI space of Auckland's Aotea Centre hosted the likes of Canadian writer Durga Chew-Bose yesterday, as well as the Auckland-based (but internationally bestselling) novelist and poet Lang Leav, with the capacity of the room seeming much too small to enclose the eager attendees who had sold out the former's talk hosted by New Zealand's own Ella Yelich-O'Connor (i.e. Lorde).

Both events featured shout-outs to the Royal Wedding, and the tone was set by the chair for each, but whereas the conversations of Chew-Bose and Yelich-O'Connor felt like two kindred spirits volleying DMs back and forth, the pairing of Leav with local writer Courtney Sina Meredith was a less even match: the latter seemed more interested in recounting the tale of a scone the two ate last month at Ponsonby Central, than setting up opportunities for Leav to discuss her work in depth. A rare moment where Leav briefly touched upon why she thinks love is an important subject to write about continues to occupy my thoughts long after, and I only wish that Leav would have been granted more time to impart heartfelt wisdom and bond with the audience on an uninhibited level like Rupi Kaur did at least year's festival.

In contrast, Yelich-O'Connor and Chew-Bose exchanged many an insightful anecdote, as well as introspective observations and intimate questions, bonding over how the colour purple personified each of their latest works (Lorde: "I’m drawn to colour and it will be a house that I live in for a few seasons"), preference for description and detail over plot, Chew-Bose's fear of being "too indulgent and too precious" in her writing, Yelich-O'Connor's worry of over-feminising her lyrics, and sharing in their mutual dilemma of having periods of limbo where they've foretold life events to their friends and not been believed. Chew-Bose quipped: "Having intuition as a writer can be the greatest gift in the world, but as a person it can make you feel like you’re functioning on a different plane."

Yelich-O'Connor's great familiarity with Chew-Bose's book 'Too Much And Not The Mood' really shone through in her dissection of the book's opening essay, 'Heart Museum', which she described as a "big bright crash-course on Durga" and likened to Tobias Wolff's 1995 short-story 'Bullet In The Brain'. And when Yelich-O'Connor excitedly exclaimed, "That’s my life! I’m trying to build a heart museum," her enthusiasm was compellingly contagious. Chew-Bose shared that the original essay had only meant to be one-page long (instead of 93), and spoke inspiringly about how the book's essays gave her a chance "to really be me" with the full support of her editor and publisher, and free from a client's constraints.

In Sina Meredith's talk with Leav she commended all of the attendees' support of women of colour, but it was in an admonishment from Yelich-O'Connor to Chew-Bose that I found undying solace and heartwarming sisterhood. In a moment of real frankness, Yelich-O'Connor interrupted Chew-Bose's train of thought to scold her, "It's very sweet that you keep saying 'somebody has granted me', because YOU DID IT! You did that for yourself!!", and in that moment I knew definitively, that there is indeed light at the end of the patriarchy-tunnel.