Whangārei Fringe 2022: How the Human Library will break down stereotypes

Organisers Verena Pschorn, left, Glenn Davidson and Han Mā are all smiles at what’s on offer at the Whangārei Fringe Festival.
Photo / Michael Cunningham

The Whangārei Fringe Festival 2022 hits the district’s doorstep today promising two weeks of weird and wonderful creativity.

A new chapter is starting in Whangārei with the debut of a Human Library – an idea borrowed from the faraway shores of Denmark.

Organisers Verena Pschorn and Han Mā were drawn to the concept’s ability to share the stories of people burdened by societal labels.

Twelve people, the youngest 16 and eldest in their 70s, will become human books tomorrow at the Whangārei Central Library.

People are invited – for free – to come and check out a human book, whose titles range from former addict, young transgender, Māori within the court system, dyslexic, Hijab-wearing Muslim, Christian, abuse survivor and more.

The process of loaning a book translates to sitting down for 20 to 30 minutes, either one-on-one or in a group, and asking any burning questions or sharing stories.

Pschorn said both she and Mā were involved in Whangārei PROUD, therefore, the idea of getting to know a person’s true self instead of a stereotype was close to their hearts.

“I think for us the whole concept is so powerful as you get these labels and everybody has an idea about what these labels entail to the point we often don’t know the people behind them or their lived reality.”

She and Mā stumbled upon Human Libraries on Facebook almost two years ago and were immediately struck.

They planned to debut the concept at last year’s Fringe festival but Covid put a stop to that. However, the delay has spurred a keen excitement to see the library brought to life.

“We have an amazing batch of people who’ve come forward in the last few weeks saying this sounds great – I need to do this, I really have something to say,” Pschorn said.

The public’s enthusiasm has dispelled the pair’s slight angst over Whangārei being a small town and the event where people laid their pages bare.

“People really want to share and about the things we don’t talk about in our day-to-day lives.”

Pschorn said while the Danes had been organising Human Libraries for 22 years, this was their first attempt and they planned to learn everything they could to hone future opportunities.

• The Human Library is in the Whangārei Central Library, 5 Rust Ave, from 9.30am on Saturday until 12.30pm. Check out other Fringe events via whangareifringe.co.nz

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