Few festivals can lay claim to being pandemic-proof, entirely-free, and focused solely on the LGBTQIA+ community. And yet, SameSame But Different, a writer’s festival that’s part of the all-encompassing Auckland Pride Month, manages to do so with aplomb.
The annual event, this year held at Ellen Melville Centre over five days instead of the customary two, is returning for its sixth iteration. It will comprise an impressive line-up of wordsmiths, including poets, debut authors, and New York Times bestselling heavyweights.
Not only is the large-scale gathering going ahead amidst a pandemic – something organiser Sam Orchard describes as a “surreal experience” – but in an ironic twist the festival has Covid-19 to thank for much of this year’s running.
It forced organisers to come to grips with livestreaming sessions, expanding who can take part, and last year’s lockdowns also inspired this year’s theme: Home.
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Orchard explains how the theme pays tribute to the numerous Kiwis who have returned to the country, in addition to highlighting the layered weight the concept of “home” holds within the LGBTQIA+ community.
“For some of us, home can be a place of safety and security and a respite from a world that doesn’t offer that,” he says. “For others, home can be a place where we’re not safe enough to be ourselves.”
For M. Darusha Wehm, Nebula Award-nominated and Sir Julius Vogel Award-winning author, the festival feels like home in the sense it brings together masses of like-minded people.
“It’s really nice to have a queer-focused festival,” says Wehm, who will be on the panel for the ‘Crime and Punishment’ session, “because it takes one element out of the equation, which is having to explain yourself”.
“It’s really nice being around people who have a similar background to you in that regard. From there, you can get to the next level thinking of topics that interest everyone.”
It’s a sentiment Jackson Nieuwland, genderqueer writer, editor and owner of Wellington bookstore Food Court Books, couldn’t agree with more.
“One cool thing about a festival like this is that you don’t need to come out to people, because everyone knows already,” they laugh. “Everyone is queer there, and that’s the default.”
Nieuwland will be navigating the theme of home via the Queer Bodies panel. For them, the concepts of both body and home served as strong inspirations when it came to curating their debut collection of poetry, entitled I Am a Human Being.
“I’ll talk a bit about how I’ve built my own safe space in life, and how others can create that,” explains Nieuwland, going on to say how, from their talking and writing, they hope to give people a better idea of the possibilities that are out there.
Alongside imparting knowledge to audience members, Nieuwland hopes to learn from them too. It’s a reoccurring theme.
“For me, literary festivals have always been about what I can learn from others,” says Wehm, who says she’s most looking forward to listening to the ideas of others and diving into the breadth of queer literature that the country offers. “Expanding my horizons, as it were.”
The event also provides an opportunity to explore the once-glossed over history of LGBTQIA+ stories within literature.
Historian, author and poet Brent Coutts will unearth previously untold stories of homosexual Kiwi soldiers in World War II with his new book Crossing the Lines. It is a product of 10 years of research.
Coutts hopes that by challenging the notion of the past, he can provide an opportunity for readers to “finally see connections to their own lives” and “learn and hear about their culture”.
These are stories that board member and panellist Joanne Drayton, a New York Times bestselling author, says have been “easy to bury” for institutions, museums, and libraries.
“For so long that kind of conversation has been illicit, illegal, damaged and problematic,” says Drayton, who will be giving a lecture about the life and times of crime author Ngaio Marsh.
“The festival offers a very rare and remarkable chance to gather those who have been working hard in the field of LGBTQIA+ research, writing, culture and history,” she says.
“It finally gives people the opportunity to use their voice.”
SameSame But Different runs February from 10–14. The full programme details can be found here.
Encompassing two Gala evenings on the Friday and Saturday nights, a series of panel talks, workshops, lectures, readings, and a poetry speakeasy and an online event, you can guarantee there is plenty for attendees to leap into at the SameSame but Different festival.
Star Poet: Courtney Sina Meredith.
February 10, 5pm – 7pm. Grey Lynn Library.
Hello Darkness reading directed by Victor Rodger, performed by Roy Ward.
Based on Peter Wells’ final work: Hello Darkness.
February 11, 7pm – 8pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Gala Event: At Home with samesame
Some of Aotearoa’s most exciting writers tell intimate stories of home and explore its many meanings for them. Rhion Munro hosts playwright Ahi Karunaharan, journalist Aroha Awarau and writers Lil O’Brien, Cole Meyers and Jen Shieff.
February 12, 7.30pm – 9pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Crime and Punishment
Writers share their experiences of writing about crime within LGBTQIA+ communities. Hosted by Jen Shieff, the event sees authors Aroha Awarau and Jennifer Palgrave (aka Hilary Lapsley and Lois Cox), joined by M. Darusha Wehm.
February 13, 10.30am – 11.30am. Ellen Melville Centre.
A group of writers will discuss how queer bodies influence their writing. This panel features the creators of the show Reclamation Ria Hiroki and Elyssia R’anee Wilson-Heti, Dunedin-based psychologist and author of Perv, Jesse Bering, writer and disability activist Henrietta (Etta) Bollinger, and poet and publisher Jackson Nieuwland.
February 13, 12pm – 1pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Far from Home
A panel of writers share their reflections as migrants, and travellers, exploring concepts of identity when you are far from your homeland, and making new homes in far-off lands Historian Chris Brickell hosts Brent Coutts, American-born writer Marolyn Krasner and playwright Ahi Karunaharan.
February 13, 2pm – 3pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Honoured Writer: Ngaio Marsh Crime Queen:Secrets and Red Herrings
Jo Drayton will be giving a lecture about the life and times of Ngaio Marsh, celebrating her contribution to NZ literature and rainbow communities.
February 13, 3.30pm-4.30pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Peter Wells Lecture: Kassie Hartendorp
Kassie Hartendorp (Ngāti Raukawa) is a renowned community activist and organiser working in the areas of youth, takatāpui, anti-racism, workers rights and housing, will deliver a lecture to discuss issues that affect the LGBTQIA+ community.
February 13, 5pm – 6pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Saturday Night Special: Objects from Home
Historian Chris Brickell, ground-breaking publisher Ian Watt, performer and musician Ramon Te Wake, and award-winning poet Courtney Sina Meredith share some of their precious objects from home.
February 13, 7pm – 8:30pm. Ellen Melville Centre.
Online event: Gary Lonesborough
Gary Lonesborough presents his debut book, The Boy from the Mish, for the online component of the festival.
February 14, 10:30 am. Online.
Writing Workshop: How To Get Published
Experienced publishing professional Elizabeth Heritage will use her insider knowledge to guide guests through the different avenues to publication.
February 14, 1pm-4pm. Ellen Melville Centre.