ARTicle Magazine

Five questions for Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy

Guy Somerset · 01 November 2016

The founders and curators of the internationally successful Women/Men/People of Letters events are readying themselves for their third LitCrawl festival in Wellington.

Women of Letters

Michaela McGuire, right, and Marieke Hardy

People of Letters, featuring Lloyd Jones and Carrie Tiffany, Hera Lindsay Bird and Gregory Kan, Dame Fiona Kidman and Harriet Allan, Fran Wilde and Grant Robertson, and Paula Morris and Tom Moody, 7.30pm, Sunday 13 November, San Fran, Wellington, as part of LitCrawl, Friday 11–Sunday 13 November.

Let’s check we’ve got this right: Lloyd Jones reads a letter to Carrie Tiffany, she reads one to him, and so on with your other “other halves” throughout the evening. You did this format at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. You must have to choose your couples and pairs carefully. Not the place to rehash grievances over putting out the bins or festering problems with your relationship.

We also do an annual People of Letters show in Melbourne, so the Wellington event will be the 10th one we’ve run. And yes, absolutely, we do have to choose our pairs carefully, but there’s been some incredible airing of grievances on our stages. Benjamin Law and Scott Spark, who have been partners for over a decade, used their letters to detail all of the reasons why they should have broken up over the years. Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales listed all the reasons why they can no longer be friends. The letters were delivered with tongues firmly in cheeks, of course, but we’ve also had an extraordinary pair of letters from Sofija Stefanovic and her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Henning, who went through their breakup in excruciating details. One year we invited a couple to participate not knowing that they’d recently separated, and they only revealed this on stage! Their letters were so beautifully sad, and it was such a rare look into the very guts of a relationship; the good and the bad.

What makes a great letter writer – for Women/Men/People of Letters shows but also more generally?

Our best letter writers are the participants who are willing or able to be revealing and personal. We let our writers know in advance that the shows are never recorded or filmed, and if it’s their wish, their letters will only be heard on that stage and never again. Our audiences are hugely respectful of this, but it still requires a leap of faith for the writers to get up there and, in many cases, disclose secrets that they may have never spoken about before. Humour is always appreciated, as is an inventive, playful approach. The best type of correspondents are the ones who put pen to paper regularly.

What are some of the published collections of letters you return to?

Of our letters? [Actually no, but we'll go with this answer anyway – Ed.] I return to them all quite regularly. Because we only hear the letters for the first time at the shows, it’s really lovely to be able to pick the books up and read through them slowly. I often find beautifully written lines that I missed on stage. Airmail is one of my favourites, because it was our first international collection, and is like reading a collection of postcards from that tour.

You’ve taken the show from Australia to the United States, Britain and Ireland, and have secured the likes of Moby, Martha Wainwright, Edie Falco, Josh Radnor and Tavi Gevinson. Where else and who else is on your wishlist?

So many people! We actually keep wishlists, for our monthly shows in Australia and New York, and there’s close to 150 names on each. Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, Cate Blanchett, Julia Gillard, Jill Soloway, Patti Smith, Elizabeth Strout, Heidi Julavits, Paulini, Gina Liano, Maggi Beer. We love touring the shows to new countries, but as a small charity it’s often beyond our means to travel far without an invitation. If you organise an overseas literary festival and are reading this, send us a letter!

Away from the show, what is it for you: handwritten or typed?

Marieke writes all sorts of letters regularly, by hand, as well as keeping a paper diary. Michaela can’t read her own handwriting, and uses a computer wherever possible.

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Guy Somerset was the founding editor of ARTicle Magazine. He is a former Books & Culture Editor of NZ Listener and Books Editor of The Dominion Post.

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