Wellington poet Bill Manhire stole the show at today’s official opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany with a speech that enthralled the audience of VIPs and politicians.
The official opening of the world’s largest book and content fair is generally a formal occasion marked by speeches from fair officials and politicos which this year included German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.
But with New Zealand taking centre stage as guest of honour at this year’s fair, the formalities were injected with laughter and a more relaxed approach.
Manhire, one of 65 Kiwi authors in Frankfurt to promote New Zealand’s creative talents, spoke to the 1700-strong crowd acknowledging a number of eminent authors including Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame and Patricia Grace for their contributions to New Zealand’s literary traditions.
He also said New Zealanders needed to challenge their own modesty and the Maori proverb “the kumara doesn’t speak of its own sweetness” was embodied in the New Zealand psyche.
Children’s author Joy Cowley followed with a crowd-pleasing reading from her book, Snake and Lizard, which has just been translated into German.
From there it was on to the official opening of the New Zealand pavilion for what has been heralded as a magical insight into our creative minds.
The pavilion is set in twilight under a starry sky and resembles an island surrounded by water.
Guests were wowed by a performance of national kapa haka champions Te Matarae I Orehu before being mesmerised by a 20-minute film and live performance that unfolded on giant screens.
Tomorrow the fair gets under way in earnest, with New Zealand authors embarking of a packed schedule of readings and panel discussions, Kiwi celebrity chefs showcasing their talents and publishers getting down to the business of selling books.
More than 300,000 visitors are expected to attend the fair over the next four days, which ends when New Zealand hands over the Guest of Honour status to Brazil on Monday.