Interview with Going West Festival Director James Littlewood
Going West Live brings four truly unique events to Lopdell House, Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery and the Glen Eden Playhouse. Across these iconic west Auckland venues, New Zealand’s most potent storytellers, musicians and performing artists will engage in oratory, discussion and performance. The festival runs the second Saturday night of each month in August, September, October and November. For more information see www.goingwestfest.co.nz. Festival Director James Littlewood talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Going West.
We’re one of the longest running LitFests in Aotearoa. In 1996 Murray Gray and Naomi McCleary put Maurice Gee and some others on a train, and went west to Helensville and back. Simple as that. In those days nobody used Auckland’s western line since it had been flogged off to neocon pirates. Murray and the crew stopped off along the way, sometimes mid-track, and generally had themselves a total ball.
This year you have a new look format, what inspired this?
Innovation born of a crisis. Some of our funders demanded covid compliance, reasonably enough. We toyed around with an online video alternative, but it wasn’t us (although we’re certainly using that media in other ways). Instead we’re stretching ourselves out on four Saturday nights over four months. That means we can reallocate those resources if we get shut down, and it also provides a host of other programming opportunities. Being exclusively night time is generating a lot of energy: it’s sort of more glamorous or something.
What have you enjoyed the most in planning the festival?
The people. The Going West team delivers on so many layers: creatively, logistically, and always with the greatest love and kindness. And of course the incredible creative people, both onstage and off. The writers, orators, musicians, designers, techs. All of them.
What are you most looking forward to in the Festival?
Surprising people! I can’t wait to share all these new ideas and narratives and sounds and images that reflect Aotearoa, this alleged paradise we’re all stranded inside.
Also, there are some pivotal Going West moments ahead. In the September event Documented Reality we’re launching our big, beautiful book, Voices of Aotearoa: 25 Years of Going West Oratory. Then at Fabricated Reality in October, we’re previewing two brand new documentary shorts, one each on the poets Nathan Joe and Freya Daly Sadgrove.
To evolve from an annual celebration of stories to an ongoing programme of commissioning and publishing original work is pretty exciting, to put it mildly.
This year Going West celebrates its 25th year, what has been the biggest challenge over the last 25 years?
Hmmm, you might have to ask Naomi and Murray, our founders, who’ve been around for all of it. Robyn Mason, our archivist and curator, is also good on the history. I’m the baby of the organisation.
But one thing that I can say is how much the landscape has changed. 25 years ago we were the only gig north of the Ngauranga Gorge. Wellington Arts Festival had a lit component, and Dunedin had a LitFest. We looked around last year and between August and December there was not a single weekend without a LitFest happening somewhere in Aotearoa. And every single one of those festivals is bloody brilliant. We realised that doing it the same wasn’t going to serve us for our second quarter century.
And the biggest reward?
Giving Murray Gray our founding director an advance copy of our new book. We haven’t seen either of them since. The look on his face.
Why should people attend Going West?
Tons of reasons. I think people will find it captivating, surprising, diverse and lively: a literary playground. With multiple stages, nobody is going to get the same experience, and that’s new for us. Going West has always been intimate and friendly, and this year, even more so. People are going to get up even more close and personal with writers and their work.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Tough question! Nearly everything I read is from Aotearoa, and I haven’t struck a dud this year. But I’m going to pick two books with similar kaupapa. Somewhere A Cleaner is a collection of poems, all of which are by cleaners. Honest and humble and powerful, all at once. Some of it’s very visceral, dealing with the gritty raw material that cleaners deal with. And some of it is the opposite, soaring high on wings of wisdom and courage.
And Her Say, edited by Jackie Clark and the Aunties, featuring stories by the women Jackie works with. For one thing, just buying that book helps someone out. For another, those courageous writers have lifted the lid on a very real and present problem in our culture. I found it very healing. It doesn’t hide from its tough subject, but it also somehow manages to be incredibly loving.