August will find Cambridge writer Tracey Slaughter basking in her preferred element – knee-deep in words and surrounded by those who shape them into works of art.
Tracey is involved in this year’s Hamilton Book Month, a string of 20 literary-oriented events running through August. Up from 17 events last year, the 2018 programme offers workshops, panels, a seminar and a play, conversations with authors, illustrators, storytelling and much more.
Tracey will chair the Travels in Memory panel at Hamilton’s Meteor Theatre on Monday August 13, from 6.30pm, where she will steer key questions around life-writing with acclaimed authors Catherine Chidgey, Diana Wichtel and Vivianne Flintoff.
Events such as these, and the awards she has entered through the years, are her oxygen in a world dominated by a teaching role at Waikato University and running a slightly unusual private life. “I try to use them as a spur … something to aim at. It’s such a joy just being around book nerds, people who love books as much as I do.”
Tracey is an award-winning poet and short story writer. She rates the international Bridport Prize in 2014 as one of her biggest wins to date, but has also won two Katherine Mansfield Awards, was the recipient of the 2010 Creative New Zealand Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary, and won the Landfall Essay Competition in 2015.
Her short stories have been shortlisted in numerous competitions, and in 2007, she was a winner of the NZ Book Month Award. This year, she came second in the prestigious international Peter Porter Poetry Award, for a poem entitled breather.
Tracey was born in Papatoetoe, raised mainly in the Coromandel and can scarcely recall a time when she didn’t write. “I was a voracious reader, always glued to a book or two, always being told to go outside and play. And I always wrote … poems, short stories.”
She completed a BA English major in Auckland, married and then found herself juggling two small children – now teenage boys – while doing her thesis on New Zealand Women’s Autobiographies and working on her own creativity. “I think the experience of motherhood brought it to the surface.”
The books came – first a collection of short stories entitled her body rises, then a novella called The Longest Drink in Town, and more recently, another collection of short stories entitled deleted scenes for lovers. She’s just had the publication confirmed of a new book of poetry, and more works are in the pipeline.
Earning a crust came in the form of teaching creative writing, first in Auckland and now at Waikato. She loves the university environment where teaching brings a different joy. “I love unlocking creativity, seeing the students make a breakthrough.”
Tracey reckons she was a “bit geeky” at school, but now her flame-haired self has the sort of life that would make her schooldays critics seem staid. She’s the drummer and singer in Radiobaby, a rock covers band that has been doing gigs across Waikato and the Coromandel for six years.
It’s another great passion, and she gets a delectable kick when people see her setting up the drums for a gig. “They think it’s really nice of me to help the band out – it’s quite something to see their response when they find out I’m the drummer!”