‘It was a great experience,’ said Courtney. ‘I loved meeting the other writers, and the venues were breath-taking. The organisers had obviously put a lot of thought into the planning of the events. For example, there was a reading on a rooftop, out in the open, warm air, which was really special. Another time there was the brilliant acoustics of the church-like venue which gave the poetry a haunting quality.’
The festival had a jam-packed programme with 52 writers from around the world, including two Pulitzer-prize winners. Courtney had a busy schedule that included being one of the
Poets from the five continents at the Templo Di Corpus Christi alongside Dinu Flamand (Romania), Victor Rodriguez Nunez (Cuba), Ahmed Al Shahawi (Egypt) and Zang Di from China.
She also did a reading at the stunning Museo del Estanquillo (a museum that houses the personal collection of the writer Carlos Monsivais) with Heike Fiedler (Switzerland), Mario Melendez (Chile), Ahmed Al Shahawi (Egypt) and Slave Gjiogjio Dimoski from Macedonia.
‘I did my readings in English and enjoyed watching the reaction of people in the crowd who could understand English. But it was wonderful to observe the response when the poems were read in Spanish. The poems were translated and read by women who brought real passion to them. It was wonderful!’
After being the youngest artist as writer-in-residence in Berlin back in 2011, Courtney was prepared for the many questions about New Zealand and was thrilled to be an ambassador for New Zealand in this way.
‘I did get asked if we were part of Australia occasionally, but I was so pleased when people said our country was “clean and beautiful” and the people are “kind”. They also wanted to know about Maori culture and our environment.’
Courtney feels ‘very lucky’ to have been in Mexico promoting her work, but she also saw it as an opportunity to promote other writers in New Zealand, as well as the festivals here – creating platforms and opportunities.
With a packed schedule, Courtney only managed a morning of sightseeing. She grew up loving the works of Frida Kahlo, so went to see the Frida Kahlo House, along with a writer from Botswana and a writer from Switzerland.
‘It was life-changing,’ said Courtney. ‘She was such an icon; it was wonderful to sit in her garden and think she used to sit there also. It gave me goose bumps.’
Courtney loved Mexican culture and the food. ‘Tacos are the best there – they are fresh and simple, top quality, with only a few ingredients.’
Mostly Courtney is grateful for all the support, which she found to be overwhelming.
‘There is passionate support for Brown Girls in Bright Lipstick. It is in translation and women from Africa, Indonesia, the Muslim world, and Spain and Mexico really understand the poems. I think women respond to my passion. I want to be a role model for brown women everywhere to be active citizens in their societies. I loved the feedback when I was in Mexico – and I would never have dreamt that my work would have this influence. It fills my heart that it does. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.’