Speaking Sideways or Talking Back? Contemporary Perspectives from South Pacific Writers

Posted on 10/10/2018
By Commonwealth Foundation

Speaking sideways or talking back?

What are writers doing in contemporary South Pacific literature?

Five writers from the South Pacific talk about narratives, trajectories, and their shared inheritance – or not – as Pacific writers within the Commonwealth. They discuss the power of storytelling in the Pacific region, the challenges of sharing narratives with the wider world and seeking to restore, document, celebrate and develop their differences, to do “unheard of things” with English, their uncommonly common tongue.

These writers are taking part in a programme of events to take place alongside the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy. Supported by Creative New Zealand.

If you wish to attend, please contact writers@commonwealth.int for a ticket.


David Eggleton is a poet, writer, reviewer and editor. An award winning critic, his non-fiction books include Into the Light: A History of New Zealand Photography, published in 2006, and Towards Aotearoa: A Short History of Twentieth Century New Zealand Art, published in 2008. His first collection of poems, South Pacific Sunrise, was co-winner of the PEN New Zealand Best First Book of Poems Award in 1987. In 2015 he received the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Poetry. His collection of poems, The Conch Trumpet, won the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. Also in 2016, he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. A new collection, Edgeland and other poems, was published by Otago University Press in July 2018. Formerly Editor of Landfall, Aotearoa New Zealand͛’s leading literary journal, David Eggleton is currently Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer in Residence at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in Honolulu.


Witi Ihimaera was the first Māori to publish a novel, Tangi, in 1973. Since then he has published many notable novels including The Matriarch 1984, Bulibasha 1995 and Sleeps Standing 2017. Four of his books have been made into feature films, including Whale Rider 2002. The first volume of his memoir, Māori Boy, won the non-fiction category of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2016; the next volume, Native Son, will be published next year. He is also an anthologist of Māori and Pacific culture, playwright and librettist. Ihimaera was recently awarded the Prime Minister͛s Award for fiction and the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government for his work in supporting Māori, Pacific and Indigenous World literatures. He was Writer of Honour at the Auckland Writers Festival, 2018. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.


Tina Makereti writes novels, essays and short stories. Her latest novel, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, tells the tale of a young Māori man who is exhibited at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1846. In 2016, her short story, Black Milk, won the Pacific Regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize and in 2017, she co-edited an anthology of Māori & Pasifika fiction, Black Marks on the White Page, with Witi Ihimaera. Makereti’s first novel, Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and won the 2014 Ngā Kupu Ora Aotearoa Māori Book Award for Fiction, also won by her short story collection, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa. Makereti has presented her work all over New Zealand and in Germany, Taiwan, Jamaica, Canada and the UK. She teaches creative writing at Massey University.


Karlo Mila is a Pasifika poet of Tongan, Samoan and Palangi heritage. Her first book, Dream Fish Floating (2006), won a New Zealand Society of Author’s Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry. She collaborated with German artist Delicia Sampero on her second collection, the image-text A Well Written Body (2008). She is a recipient of a Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writer͛s Residency and represented Tonga at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad event Poetry Parnassus Festival in London. This year, Mila performed poetry at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in London (CHOGM). She completed a BA from Massey University and worked for ten years in labour organising and health research before completing her PhD in sociology. Mila’s poetry and scholarship focus on the personal and political realities of Pasifika identity. She currently lives in Auckland and will have another collection poetry published by Huia in 2019.


Paula Morris (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Whatua) is the author of the story collection Forbidden Cities (2008); the long-form essay On Coming Home (2015); and eight novels, including Rangatira (2011), winner of best work of fiction at both the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards and Ngā Kupu Ora Maori Book Awards. Her most recent book is False River (2017), a collection of stories and essays around the subject of secret histories. She teaches creative writing at the University of Auckland, sits on the Māori Literature Trust and New Zealand Book Awards Trust, and is the founder of the Academy of New Zealand Literature.