Three Samoan writers finalists in N.Z. Book Awards

Three writers of Samoan descent Lani Wendt Young, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Courtney Sina Meredith are finalists in this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Lani Wendt Young’s book, “Afakasi Woman” is shortlisted in this year’s Book Awards in New Zealand for Children and Young Adults. 

The book is a collection of 24 stories with the setting in Samoa and focusing on various women of mixed ethnicity.

Ms Young is a Samoan and Maori author and her book “Afakasi Woman” was published by One Tree House publisher last year and was re-released in hard copy.

Responding to questions from the Samoa Observer, she congratulated Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh and Courtney Meredith who are also shortlisted in the non-fiction category. 

She said she is excited to see her book recognised in these awards and proud to have her work included alongside so many other writers she admires.

"These stories have been inspired by key experiences and observations throughout my life growing up in Samoa," she said.

According to Ms Young, the judges said that "Afakasi Woman" tackles a wide range of challenging topics in ways that will provoke much discussion among teenage readers. 

The judges said the writing is clean, bold and willing to play with moral ambiguity. It is a powerful and compelling read that, while uncomfortable at times, always focuses on putting the voice of Polynesian women front and centre, with evocative scene-setting throughout.

"I'm guessing this is the first time there's been that many Pasifika authors in any NZ Book Awards of any kind. We must ask ourselves why that is? I hope this will be the first of many NZ Book Awards where stories from our people are celebrated," Ms Young added.

"I'm grateful for those whose (often lonely) footsteps we walk in, who lead the way through literary doors that are rarely opened for us. For me, this is a reminder and a #kickInButt that we must continue to work to get more of us writing/publishing/reviewing, more of us telling our stories."

The cover of the book featured an illustration by local artist of Manamea Art Studio, Nikki Mariner.

Ms Mariner said she is proud of Ms Young and her achievement. 

"I'm very proud of Lani and her work being recognised so highly in New Zealand. The short stories are powerful and deeply Samoan, and could only have been written by someone who grew up in Samoa and lives here," she said. "The themes are relatable to many people and they make you feel something. Sometimes I had to put the book down after a story and just process what I'd read and the feelings it brought up in me."

Ms Mariner said she was asked by Ms Young to do the illustration and appreciates the exposure that she is now getting through the book.

"I'm grateful to Lani for requesting my painting for the cover. She is a Samoa based author and she gave me, a Samoa based artist, the opportunity to have my work seen by a whole new audience around the world," she added. "The painting is called "Paddle Me Tausi" and was purchased by a woman who lives in Milan Italy. So this Samoan painting has had an interesting life and is truly international between Samoa, Italy and New Zealand.  The fact that my artwork wraps around Lani's stories makes me proud of the creativity coming out of Samoa, and specifically creative women in Samoa. "

Another finalist up for the Elsie Locke Award for non-fiction is Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh who is of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent.

Her book “Mophead” is an inspirational graphic memoir full of wry humour that tells the true story of a New Zealander woman realising how her difference can make a difference.

Courtney Sina Meredith, who is also of Samoan and Cook Islands descent and the author of “The Adventures of Tupaia”, is also up for the same award.

The book tells the story of Tupaia, a Tahitian priest navigator who sailed on board the Endeavour with Captain Cool on his first voyage to Aotearoa.

Tupaia's story puts Pacific knowledge to its rightful place, the front - the 'discovery' of Aotearoa is no longer one that needs to be dominated by Cook.

Ms Meredith recently made a Facebook post in relating to the awards, saying: “Making books and making history! Wild beautiful times Selina Tusitala Marsh and Lani Wendt Young.”

According to a Tagata Pasifika article on the three writes of Samoan descent, Convenor of judges, Jane Arthur says of all the finalists: “They might be creating books for children, but our authors and illustrators are unafraid to tackle difficult topics – big things like the unhappy impact of colonisation on Tangata Whenua and nature, New Zealand’s place in the Pacific, puberty, racism and abuse.”  

The winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced in a virtual presentation which will be streamed online on Wednesday 12 August.

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