Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The write stuff now and into the future

It is while doing my annual end-of-year clean-up over the Christmas/New Year (2006/2007) period that I find a couple of old Kovave magazines from the early 1970s buried under a mountain of paper, novels and assorted paraphernalia.
I flick through the old Kovave magazines, hand-me-downs from my late father, and the memories of another day come to mind.
It is like being transported back to the halcyon days of Papua New Guinea literature in pre-1975.
For those who came in late, Kovave was arguably the best-ever literary publication of the young University of PNG, featuring some of our greatest talent such Vincent Eri, Albert Maori Kiki, Kumulau Tawali, John Kasaipwalova, Leo Hannett, Rabbie Namaliu, Russell Soaba, John Kadiba, John Kaniku, and many others.
Apart from Kovave, their work was also featured on the National Broadcasting Commission’s popular not-to-be missed Sunday night dramas and other literary programmes.
I lie on my mountain of paper and let my mind wander back to those days when such powerful writings so influence my young mind.
My wife wakes me up from my reverie and I fast-forward back to the future just like I am in a time machine.
Coincidentally, I happen to meet senior UPNG literature lecturer and established writer Dr Steven Winduo - who is a good friend of mine and part of the campus literary crowd in the 1980s – at the market that afternoon and we make it a point to meet some time.
Dr Winduo now wears many hats including being director of the Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) Centre at UPNG, and chairman of the National Literature Board, to name a few.
He believes that PNG literature is undergoing a renaissance after a literary lull between the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“I can see that there is a wave of new voices of PNG literature since last year when we started the National Literature Board,” Dr Winduo says.
“National Literature Board is under the auspices of the National Cultural Commission, so, we began to run the national literature competition
“When it started we had more than 300 entries.
“We had about six novels, a lot of short stories, poems and plays.
“That indicates to me that people are writing.
“But what they need is the support of the government as well as people in places such as UPNG to help them.
“This is very important because over the years, between the ‘70s and ‘90s, there was a literary gap.
“Commentators were saying that literature was dead in PNG, that the ‘80s and ‘90s was almost like ‘death’.
“I came through from that generation of a literary lull.
“People believed Papua New Guineans didn’t have the creative power anymore.
“But 2000 and beyond, individual writers began to publish.

“I think 2000 and onwards, we began to see new writers coming out.
“Some of them are very good.”
Dr Winduo’s MAPS Centre has a publishing programme in place; however, this has been limited because of funding constraints.
This is something that he feels strongly about.
“If we don’t give writers that opportunity (to publish), the work of a lot of people with literary talent will not see the light of day.”
Dr Winduo is also mindful that critical reading of quality works by Papua New Guineans is not done.
“This concerns me as a scholar.
“Otherwise, creativity is there.”
He also acknowledges the work of the Divine Word University in Madang in supporting literature.
“Balanced with scholarly work, fiction and non-fiction, I believe the university should play a central role in fostering and in developing cultural consciousness in PNG,” he adds.
“In some ways, my centre plays a major role and I’m very confident of seeing a lot more writing coming out.
“UPNG still runs Savannah Flames literary journal.
“It’s supposed to come out once a year.
“This is one avenue for writers to submit their works for publication.
“That’s the only journal that encourages creative writing.
“That’s now supported by MAPS Centre.
“Apart from that, I see the future as plentiful, but how do we cultivate it is the question?
“If you think about it, writing is now powerful.
“There are so many things happening in our country, so get the pen and write.”
Dr Winduo also feels that PNG writers are not given ample recognition, as well as financial endowment.
“One of my views is that I really want to see the government recognise our writers.
“Give them a medal or something.
“Maybe have totem poles named after them.
“Look at Russell Soaba, who was given a 30th anniversary independence medal (in 2006).
“It took the government so many years to recognise this writer.
“Albert Maori Kiki, Vincent Eri and others are recognised all over the world but they are not recognised in their own country.
“The other issue is that the government should look at creating an endowment fund for the arts, which is really a kind of funding mechanism to support all arts, including the literary art.
“The endowment fund can be used to support publishing houses.
“Without the endowment, it’s a bottleneck situation.
“For example, we at MAPS, are working with very limited funding.
“Literature and the arts have been very poor recipients of private sector support.”

Papua New Guinea literature took a giant step forward in May 2006 when the first-ever writers’ workshop was held at the Holiday Inn, Port Moresby, organised by the National Literature Board and the National Cultural Commission.
More than 80 aspiring and established writers rubbed shoulders in a long-overdue event.
Dr Winduo was away in New Zealand at that time, however, gave his full support to the event.
“That (workshop) should have been in the ‘80s,” he says.
“The feedback I got is that writing is there.
“It’s the support that the government gives as well as UPNG that is needed.
“I see the future of literature opening up.
“This is a concerted effort by like-minded people and institutions who are saying ‘let’s work together’.
“Literature goes into other activities and feeds its consciousness.
“The ability of Papua New Guineans is there”

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