Author Tina Makereti discusses 'this thing called writing'

Kōkiritia interviews Tina Makereti as she prepares for TIBE15 and discovers why she finds being a Māori author so rewarding.

Published: Rāpare, 12 Huitanguru, 2015 | Thursday, 12 February 2015

Why do you think the Taiwanese people are interested in working with our Māori authors?

I imagine like us they might be hungry to know how other indigenous people do this thing called writing. I know they're very pro-active and seem to have been going through a cultural renaissance in recent decades, and since you might say our cultural renaissance began in the 1970s, they might look to us to see the kinds of approaches and successes we have had. But I worry about how well we're actually doing in terms of having a healthy written literature, so perhaps there is much we can learn from them. For the general Taiwanese population, I hope they are as fascinated by our unique culture as other international groups I've encountered.

What do you think are the themes in Māori writing that connect with international audiences?

I have been asked to speak about what makes a New Zealand writer, and although I can really only speak for myself, I highlighted three things: People; Land/Sea; and the magical nature of writing itself, as in the source of creativity. I found whakataukī for these things. I think there are principles so embedded in who we are that they cannot help but come through our writing: He tangata he tangata he tangata; Toitū te whenua. People pick up on the resonance of this and understand that these things feed them in a way that contemporary life does not. These things reach into the core, essence, mauri, wairua--whatever we want to call it. We hunger for connection, which literature can give us. Māori literature has this advantage. 

What are the challenges for Māori writers or indigenous writers, and how have you overcome these challenges?

This is a big question which I have outlined in a fairly extensive blogpost for Commonwealth Writers here:  Te Karanga Call.  When I began writing my PhD thesis and Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, I was surprised and dismayed to discover that most of the scholarly work on Māori literature in English was being done overseas, and that there are still very few Māori scholars of English literature in New Zealand, resulting in few places that potential writers and scholars can study our literature. This is a significant gap and barrier to progress in terms of our creative work. Fiction is more important than we often imagine: it allows us to examine what is and imagine what might be, and I have seen how it transforms society. My responses have been multiple, but since I find myself in the fortuitous position of having a voice and good connections in the literary world, I developed the course we have just begun teaching at Victoria University: Te Hiringa a Tuhi: Māori & Pasifika Creative Writing.

What is it that you would like to achieve from this (TIBE15) exchange?

I am happy to be there and experience the cultures of Taipei and Taiwan. I will be attending and speaking at a few events, but in a way it will be a time of contemplation, and soaking in the brightness and difference of another place. I love that it is an island and that we have such ancient whakapapa connections there. If I had a 'business' objective, it would be to find international publishers for Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings!

How did you become a Māori writer and what would you say to any future Māori writers?

When I was in my early thirties, I asked myself if I could do anything in the world, what would it be? The answer was clear, so I did everything I could to develop and test my writing ability. I was really lucky that almost immediately I began to get confirmation that I had some ability, so I kept working. In practical terms, this meant taking courses and submitting work for competitions and journals. If you want to write, you have to put into place a plan to obtain the technical skills needed, just like any other career. You also have to be very determined, and at the same time, very open to criticism. It's a difficult thing that requires absolute commitment sometimes, but if you love the work then it's for you.