History of the Festival
The Whanganui Literary Festival began in 2006 and ran again in 2007. Since then, it has always been run as a biennial event. In 2006 the Festival began with local authors while the 2007 event welcomed Gordon McLauchlan and Owen Marshall to Whanganui. This started our tradition of inviting national authors to the Literary Festival and now we host nine national authors over the final weekend, with a keynote speaker on the Friday evening and 8 author sessions through Saturday to Sunday afternoon.
The 2009 Festival featured Glenn Colquhoun, Fiona Kidman and Kate de Goldi, amongst others. In 2011 Bill Manhire and Elizabeth Knox headlined the Festival. These festivals were held at the Alexander Heritage library but even then it was becoming obvious that we needed to find a bigger venue. From 2013 onwards, the War Memorial Centre has been our choice of venue.
In the years between the festivals, the Whanganui Literary Trust has run a variety of events to celebrate writing, reading and literature in our community. In 2012 we ran a series of open-mic poetry events and were also part of Whanganui Mainstreet’s Caboodle, where we hosted local poets on a soapbox stage as well as running a haiku competition in conjunction with the Whanganui Regional Museum. In October 2012 we commemorated the anniversary of the death of seminal Whanganui poet James K Baxter. Audience members shared memories of the poet and Baxter's play Requiem for Sebastian was performed.
In 2013 we had another fantastic Festival featuring Joe Bennett, Witi Ihimaera, Grant Smithies, Gregory O'Brien and more.
The 2015 festival featured a range of well-known writers across genres, including Charlotte Grimshaw, Rachael King, Nalini Singh, Jarrod Gilbert, and Nicky Hager.
In 2016 we hosted Ockham NZ Book Award winner Stephen Daisley, who spoke about his winning novel Coming Rain and his work in progress set in Whanganui.
In early 2017 Dave Ratcliffe regaled a diverse audience with wild tales of professional hunting in remote areas of New Zealand. C.K. Stead was our keynote speaker for the main events later in the 2027 Festival, with Roger Hall, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Fiona Farrell, Nick Bollinger and Adam Dudding as fellow authors.
The 2019 Festival was a first in that we hosted Ajax, the kea detection dog as well as his owner and trainer, Corey Mosen. Joanne Drayton was our keynote speaker and Dame Fiona Kidman, Paul Cleave, Tina Makareti, and Ron Palenski, amongst others, were our invited main authors.
"Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in the WLF celebrations last weekend. I was made to feel wonderfully welcome, and especially relished being able to meet and mingle with readers not only at the opening event, but at the Saturday evening dinner. I was enormously impressed by the programme, too, and thoroughly enjoyed attending Saturday's sessions as an attendee."
Leah McFall, Author, 2019 Festival