BY ABIGAIL JOHNSON

 

The Lorde talk was not supposed to be the Lorde talk.

The Saturday morning of the Auckland Writers Festival is chaotic. It’s all shoving and shouting, and everyone’s running late. At 11am, the line outside the Lower NZI Room of the Aotea Centre snaked up the stairs. It consisted, mostly, of young hipster-adjacent women, and my partner and I had to make sure we weren’t in line for the Ladies. We weren’t, but we lost our place in line for checking. We were there to see Durga Chew-Bose, and, like everyone else in line, we were also there to see Lorde.

It was an inspired decision, and surely a unique one, to have the first-time author interviewed by our world-renowned pop star. Evidently the pair are friends. Billed as members of the ‘millennial intelligentsia’, they share such mutuals as Tavi Gevinson and Lena Dunham, whose work might be familiar if you’re young, female, and hipster-adjacent. At $12.50 a seat, it was also the cheapest Lorde ticket you’d be likely to come by.

But the Lorde talk wasn’t the Lorde talk. It was ‘Event 55’ of the Auckland Writers Festival. And we were there to dive into Chew-Bose’s seminal collection of personal essays, Too Much and Not the Mood.

It’s at once a shame and pure genius to be so overshadowed by the chair. Chew-Bose’s work is lyrical, minuscule, detail focused, and profound. Themes range from the serious to the silly, though the silly doubles back and finds itself serious too. Her personal essays place emphasis on the personal, to the point where one almost wishes to cover their eyes and peek the stories through the pinprick gaps in their fingers. And it’s not just the unrelenting soul-baring. Chew-Bose writes tangentially, diarylike, with almost no use for plot. She confirmed as much in-talk; “I don’t really care about plot.”

Any annoyance at being overshadowed was surely assuaged by how many more eyes Ella’s presence brought to the book. A book that is obviously great, but may not have been the biggest draw of the festival. And really, Chew-Bose just seemed delighted to be talking to her friend.

Inevitable comparisons arose; Too Much… and Melodrama were released within 33 days of the other. Both detail the inner lives of their authors, in such gobsmackingly assured prose that peers are cast as amateurs. Both detail having a home (Montreal, in Chew-Bose’s case) away from where they work (New York, in both cases). And both share the colour purple as inspiration. It features on the book and album cover, and both artists claim to have ‘lived in’ the colour while they worked. I don’t really know what that means, but I’ve not written anything as good as either final works, so I’ll just take their word on it. The pair spoke easily, at times seeming to have a personal conversation. There’s that word again.

They spoke of getting their auras read, and both coming up as ‘very tired’. They shared what it’s like for a piece of work to be your world for years- and then to release it. “I was afraid we would talk about boyfriends or something” quipped the popstar, though of course they didn’t. Both possess the ability to pull you in, as if whispering secrets, while keeping you simultaneously at professional length.

Chew-Bose spoke eloquently and assuredly, pausing only to search for the word. And as she gesticulated, searching, we in the audience would mentally fill it in. Inevitably, she’d come up with something better. She speaks the way she writes.

The pair talked overtime and squeezed the always cringey audience questions (perhaps purposefully), into the final few minutes. When the inevitable “It’s not really a question, more of a request” came up, my mouth might have twitched. Chew-Bose demurred she had already done the requested thing. When someone asked about her taste in pop music, the pop phenom to her right blushed. The crowd giggled.

It might have been the Lorde talk. But those who came along unacquainted with Chew-Bose likely left wanting to be. The clamouring for the books table afterward suggested as much.

 

@abigail1963

 

This story was submitted for The Common Room, a place for all young people to share their views. Got something to say? Everyone’s welcome – click here to contribute!

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