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10 November 2023

2023 Pānui: Mona Williams delivers a 'story from her own mouth'

Mona introduces her lecture. Photo: Sarah Hillocks

Storyteller Mona Williams delivered a ‘story from her own mouth’ (a title derived from an early request from a young student) in spectacular style at the Read NZ Te Pou Muramura 2023 Pānui on Wednesday evening.

Mona's Pānui was delivered to a full auditorium of 160 at the National Library, with further guests seated in the Pipitea room to watch the event livestream. Mona was given a standing ovation, with the audience commenting that her Pānui moved them to both laughter and tears.

The event celebrated fifty years of the organisation’s Writers in Schools programme, making Mona–who has participated in the programme visiting schools for over forty of those years–a particularly apt keynote speaker.

Mona is originally from British Guiana (now Guyana) and arrived in New Zealand in 1971. She holds a BA in Mass Communications from Stanford University in the United States, was a Fulbright and Ford scholar, and has lectured at Massey University as well as teaching in primary and intermediate schools. Teachers commonly use words like “outstanding” and “spellbound” to describe Mona’s storytelling.

Mona Williams' Pānui, Tell us a story out of your own mouth, traced Mona's own life as a storyteller, writer and reader. It was a deeply personal and passionate conversation about growing up in Guyana, exploring identity through storytelling, and the magic that occurs when children are taught that they, too, are storytellers.

Mona’s Pānui address was a powerful celebration of storytelling’s power to build identity and to heal. It encompassed reflections on Mona’s family history and childhood (as recorded in her 1995 autobiography Bishops: My Turbulent Colonial Youth) and presented piercing insights from her life as a storyteller, performer, dancer, and mother in Aotearoa New Zealand, all delivered in her signature flamboyant style.

Guests joined with Mona and local band Klezmer Rebs for a lively reception, drinks, and to dance the Hora in the foyer following the lecture.

You can read Mona’s full Pānui transcript here, or sign up as a Read NZ Te Pou Muramura member to receive your signed copy of the limited edition Pānui publication in the post. Audio and video files will be available soon.