Matariki and Michael Bennett are working together to bring Māori and Pasifika artists to the Auckland Writers Festival. (Photo supplied)

Matariki Bennett and her dad Michael Bennett are artists who work together. They write, produce and publish in various fields and genres, including fiction, film, television and poetry. Matariki has had a hand in both Michael’s novels, and they’re now working together on a non-fiction book and film about Michael’s father and his six siblings who fought in World War Two.

In other words, they’re well placed to be in charge of putting together a lineup of kaupapa Māori and Pasifika artists for Waituhi o Tāmaki, the Auckland Writers Festival. Here’s what they have in store for this year’s festival goers.


Michael and Matariki at the Auckland Writers Festival 2023. (Photo supplied)

Ko Matariki Bennett raua ko Michael Bennett o tāua ingoa. We’re both writers and filmmakers. We’re kōtiro and pāpā, we share whakapapa, and we share a belief in the power of words to move, the power of words to inspire, the power of words to transcend. The power of words to change the world.

We’re honoured and excited to be co-curators Māori of Waituhi o Tāmaki, the Auckland Writers Festival. This is our second year of doing this job. Our theme for our curatorships is He Ahi Kei Taku Korokoro, which means My Throat Holds Fire.

In January this year, more than 10,000 people gathered at the heart of the Kiingitanga to discuss the coalition government’s proposed policies that may threaten decades of hard-won progress for Māori. And then Waitangi Day was overshadowed by the possibility that the principles of Te Tiriti itself may be subject to review and referendum.

As co-curators of the festival sessions, we’re committed to opening the stage to exciting and confronting kōrero from Māori creators, thinkers and change-makers with fires burning in their throats. Fires that burn even more urgently today.

We’ve taken a broad and inclusive approach to the question of what is a kaituhi, what is a writer? Among the speakers and thinkers, we’re excited to have the youngest person in 170 years to write laws for Aotearoa, Te Pāti Māori MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke.

We also feature Rob Mokaraka, who survived his attempt at suicide by cop, and has written powerful theatre works to help other young Māori in mental health crises. Living legend Troy Kingi will write an entirely new waiata live on-stage, with the help of the audience.

We have writers and thinkers and poets and dancers, from Gen Z to septuagenarian, from Aotearoa and crossing oceans to Sāmoa, India, Indigenous Australia, Singapore, and from across the LGBTQ+ community. We have two sessions in te reo, with simultaneous translations into reo Pākehā, so that everyone is included.

Actor and playwright Miriama McDowell, who appears in ‘Kia Whakatōmuri Te Haere Whakamua: I walk backwards into the future with my eyes on the past’ with Ngāhuia Te Awekōtuku and Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani. (Photo supplied)

In Kia Whakatōmuri Te Haere Whakamua: I Walk Backwards Into The Future With My Eyes On The Past, we will welcome three wāhine Māori artists and writers at three pivotal stages of their artistic and personal lives to explore how the world changes, and what truly matters for wāhine artists, whether that’s in their early days, middle ground or later life.

This is a year of confrontation and unrest across the globe, and growing challenges at home for Māori. Against this backdrop, we’ve brought together a session called Te Ara ki te Ora: How To Survive. Our planet is getting hotter, mental and physical healthcare is under strain, the most foundational Indigenous rights are being debated. There’s no shortage of big stuff challenging every one of us, every day. Three writers join Dr Emma Espiner to discuss Māori perspectives on facing, and maybe surmounting, the big existential crises. How do we confront life’s hardest parts and try to find a way through?

Nicola Toki, Chair of Forest and Bird, will join Dr Emma Espiner to discuss Māori perspectives on our planetary crises. (Photo supplied)

But it’s not all shadows and angst. There’s so much we need to remember to celebrate. In Kua Tū Ake te Reanga Kōhanga Reo: The Kōhanga Reo Generation Is Here, we pay tribute to the kaumātua across Aotearoa who, in the 1970s, dreamt up kōhanga reo in response to the decline in tikanga and te reo Māori. In the decades following, the kōhanga reo generation emerged: a generation strong in their Māoritanga, strong in their reo. Two extraordinary and celebrated young wāhine from the kōhanga reo generation talk about how the reo and the strength of their culture has defined who they are and allowed them to achieve what they’ve achieved.

Moeawa Tamanui-Fransen will facilitate the session ‘Kua Tū Ake Te Reanga Kōhunga Reo: The kōhunga reo generation is here.’ (Photo supplied)

Our goal is not just to have brilliant creators talking about the stuff they’ve created, but also to have creativity happen on stage, and for the audience to be a part of that.

In He Waiata i te Hāora: A Waiata In An Hour, we’re looking forward to something special as singer-songwriter Troy Kingi lays bare his creative process. He will invite the audience to be part of conceiving, writing and performing an entirely original waiata in 60 minutes. The audience gives Troy the genre and a key lyric, the timer starts, and Troy goes to work. Bring your taonga puoro. Bring your voices to be part of a doo-wop chorus. Bring your hands to give Troy a hand-clap backing beat. Or simply sit back and watch the magic unfold.

Troy Kingi, who will work with the audience to compose a waiata within one hour. (Photo supplied)

Our final session is a celebration of storytelling live on stage, and includes BIPOC writers and thinkers from Aotearoa, Pasifika and across the world. In Te Rā i Whānau ai Ahau: The Day I Was Born, seven artists, writers, poets and performers each have seven minutes to explore the day they really started to live — to tell intimate and personal stories about the moments in their lives when everything changed and their lives truly began.

Tusiata Avia is part of a line-up of global Indigenous artists in the session ‘Te Rā i Whānau ai Ahau: The Day I Was Born.’ (Photo supplied)

Our kaupapa with all these sessions is to put out the welcome mat to audiences and speakers who might not normally attend this type of event. As well as our curatorship, there are several other sessions throughout the 2024 festival that explore te ao Māori and the current golden age of Māori writing and creativity. Damon Salesa has also curated a series of sessions focused on the diverse traditions of Pacific storytelling.

Auckland Writers Festival 2023. (Photo supplied)

If you’ve never been to a writers festival, if you feel like writers festivals aren’t made for you, we hope this lineup might just change your mind. We’d love to see you there.

Matariki and Michael Bennett curated sessions at Waituhi o Tāmaki 2024

Kua Tū Ake Te Reanga Kōhunga Reo: The kōhunga reo generation is here

Friday, May 17, 10am
Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou, Te Atiawa, Ngāi Tahu. MP for Hauraki-Waikato). Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe. Actor, director and playwright). Facilitated by Moeawa Tamanui-Fransen (Ngā Āriki Kaipūtahi, Te Aitanga a Māhaki, Ngāti Manu, and of Dutch and Surinamese-Creole descent. Broadcaster with a background in youth work, youth justice, sexual and reproductive health).

Te Ara ki Te Ora: How to survive

Saturday, May 18, 1pm
Airana Ngarewa (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāruahine. Author and teacher). Nicola Toki (Chief Executive of Forest and Bird). Rob Mokaraka (Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tūhoe. Actor, writer, director.) Facilitated by Dr Emma Espiner (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou. Author and doctor).

He Waiata I te Hāora: A waiata in an hour

Saturday, May 19, 5:15pm
Troy Kingi (Te Arawa, Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. Actor and multi-award-winning, multi-genre musician).

Kia Whakatōmuri Te Haere Whakamua: I walk backwards into the future with my eyes on the past

Sunday, May 19, 10am
Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Ngāpuhi, Waikato. Academic, author and activist). Miriama McDowell (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi. Actor, playwright and director). Manaia Tuwhare-Hoani (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai. Poet and educator). Facilitated by Hariata Moriarty (Ngāti Toarangatira, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Ngā Puhi Hokianga ki te Raki. Actor and lawyer).

Te Rā I Whānau Ai Ahau: The day I was born

Sunday, May 19, 4pm
Rob Mokaraka. Tusiata Avia (Aotearoa, Sāmoa whakapapa). Rehekōrero spoken word team (Koromiko Jacobs-Williams: Ngāti Ranginui. Piremina Ngapera: Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi. Billy McCarthy: Ngāpuhi. Milan Moala: Waikato Tainui). Sefa Tunupopo (Sāmoa: Vaiala, Puipa’a). Debra Dank (First Nations Australia: Gudanji). Jerry Pinto (Indian-English). Joshua Ip (Singapore).

Ngāhuia Te Awekōtuku, who will join the session Kia Whakatōmuri Te Haere Whakamua: I Walk Backwards Into The Future With My Eyes On The Past. (Photo: Tracey Scott)

Matariki Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) is a 21-year-old poet, screenwriter and director. She is a founding member of the poetry collective Ngā Hinepūkōrero, recipients of the 2021 Creative New Zealand Ngā Manu Pīrere award. Matariki’s poetry has been on display at the Caretakers Cottage as part of Auckland Pride 2022, and at Corbans Estate as part of “Bodies of Woven Code”. Matariki is the 2023 Wellington Regional Poetry Slam Champion. She is writing her first book, a collection of poetry titled, “e kō, nō hea koe” funded by Creative New Zealand.

Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker and author. Michael devoted many years of his recent career to the fight for justice for Teina Pora. He made the documentary The Confessions of Prisoner T, which led to the discovery of evidence pivotal to Teina’s exoneration. He also directed and co-wrote a TV feature film about Teina’s case, and wrote In Dark Places which won Best Non-Fiction book at the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Michael’s debut novel Better The Blood was published in 2022. It was a finalist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and won Best First Novel at the Ngaio Marsh Awards 2023, making Michael the first author to win for both fiction and non-fiction. His new novel, Return To Blood, was published April 2024.

The Auckland Writers Festival takes place May 14–19. For all information and tickets visit

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