'Afakasi Woman' wins Notable Books Award

Samoan author, Lani Wendt-Young, has won another award for her writing, this time in honour of her new collection of short stories, Afakasi Woman, winning a Storylines New Zealand Notable Books Award.

She has been honoured alongside two other Samoan writers: Courtney Sina Meredith for her book The Adventures of Tupaia, and Selina Tusitala Marsh for Mophead: How your Difference Makes a Difference.

Afakasi Woman was printed in November 2019 is 16 short stories that explore identity, place and being a woman in the Samoan culture.

Ms. Wendt-Young said the stories have come from deeply personal and sometimes challenging experiences from the entirety of her writing career.

“The stories range from serious to sad, and from painful to funny, and they touch on issues like racism, abuse, youth suicide, teen pregnancy, social class and prejudice in Samoa, living through the devastating loss of a child and more,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“I am thrilled to have my writing recognised this way and to have my book be in such great company,” she said.

Each of the stories, which often speak to difficult subjects, are dedicated to her daughters, Ms. Wendt-Young said.

“It’s their laughter and strength which give me the courage to write even when I’m afraid,” she said.  

“People often say to me that 'you're so brave' writing what I do, speaking about the topics I’m fiapoto speak about. 

“But the truth is that every time I do write about something difficult, I'm terrified. I'm grateful for my daughters who remind me why I write the stories that I do.”

One short story in particular is the author’s interpretation of the Samoan myth Sina and the Eel. In Red Hibiscus, the myth is recreated as a parable on sexual predators in Samoa.

Ms. Wendt-Young said she wants to see more conversations on this deep seated issue, and that she is excited to see assertive, confident women who know their rights making their voices heard.

“We must continue to speak out against the sexual harassment and abuse of women in our families, workplaces and schools,” she said.

“It's so encouraging to see many of our daughters today, having the strength and courage to call out this behaviour and stand against the toxic mindsets and attitudes which enable it.”

The short story collection is the writer’s 11th book, after her Telesa and Scarlet Lies series. She also published Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi, about the 2009 tsunami in Samoa.

She features Samoan art on the cover by Nikki Mariner-Peseta from the Manamea Gallery, with a painting especially commissioned for the book.

“Her painting is the perfect complement to these stories that are a rich tapestry of women’s experiences,” Ms. Wendt-Young said. 

Afakasi Woman was originally published as an online book and it won University of the South Pacific fiction prize. 

Pacific author Sieni A.M said of Wendt-Young: “finally, a female contemporary voice from the South Pacific that draws awareness to sensitive cultural issues, laced with hilarious tales, and a realness that brings it all too close to home.”

Reviewer Rebekah Fraser called the collection “an incredible tribute to women and their power, especially women of the Pacific […] that shines a spotlight on some uncomfortable truths.

“Wendt-Young isn't afraid to highlight some of the harsher realities, of not just Pacific women but humanity as a whole.”

Storylines is a charitable trust working to promote reading and access to books for children and young adults across New Zealand, and supports writers and illustrators of children and young adult books.

It is part of the New Zealand Section of the International Board on Books for Young People. 

The Notable Book Awards began in 1999, and are selected by a five-person panel of experts. 

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