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June 1, 2014 | by  | in Arts Books |
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INTERVIEW: Tina Makereti

A few weeks ago, Victoria University’s creative-writing institute, the IIML, announced a new undergraduate course beginning in Trimester 2: Te Hiringa a Tui, the Māori and Pasifika Creative Writing Workshop. It is a new kind of course that encourages students “to bring their cultures with them through the workshop room door.”

Tina Makereti, highly acclaimed novelist and non-fiction writer, is the course convenor.

There are relatively few Māori and Pasifika students enrolled in creative-writing courses at VUW. Why do you think this is? Is there something a bit insular about university creative-writing culture?

There could be. I guess that’s one reason to make a course like this; do Māori and Pasifika students find IIML creative-writing courses accessible? I hope that by directly addressing the question of how culture relates to writing, we open up a space for people who are interested in exploring cultural identity in Aotearoa NZ, and for people who don’t see themselves reflected in our publishing culture. And we also create another space on campus that has different cultural imperatives: where speaking different languages, different traditional creative forms, joking and political discussion can take place.

What alerted you to the necessity of this new course?

In my PhD, I did some of statistical analysis that revealed just how few Māori-fiction-in-English books are produced. In 2007, there were six per cent; in 2008, 1.6 per cent; in 2009, four per cent. This is well below what might be expected for our population, and I am sure Pasifika writing is similarly underrepresented.

Victoria has lost its own Pacific and Indigenous literature papers for the time being, and I’m not sure if they will be invested in again. The loss for students is palpable to me. The loss is great for Māori and Pasifika students, but also for any student interested in literature. And how can we understand our national identity if so many of our national stories are not taught in any active way? How can we tell new stories if we don’t know what has gone before?

I would call this a crisis, and not one I would expect us to be addressing in 2014.

The new course will incorporate a range of forms, poetry and prose, while other IIML courses focus only on one.

There will be a lot of freedom to experiment with form. I guess we will be approaching these questions in class: is something better expressed as a poem or an essay? Could it be both? Is it a piece of fiction or non-fiction?

Which writers will you be reading in the class?

Tusiata Avia, Hinemoana Baker, Sia Figiel, Patricia Grace, Epeli Hau’ofa, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Karlo Mila, Robert Sullivan, Albert Wendt and many others!

What do you hope to achieve with your students?

It’s about finding strength in their writing and finding the thing they can do with words that no one else can. The best outcome would be for them to go on and publish or take more courses, perhaps apply for the MA. Writing takes incredible tenacity. I hope to give them some tools for the journey.

What do you see in the future for Māori and Pasifika creative writing at Victoria?

I’d like to see this paper succeed, and for there to be a healthy and diverse range of cultures here and out in the publishing world.

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