Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Readers and Writers Festivals in major city centres are an annual treat for literary stalwarts, most notably, well heeled Pakeha. This year there are some new developments.
Kupu, a seminal Māori literary festival, was held in Rotorua in June. And on November 4th and 5th, a groundbreaking festival for Moana writers, called Flying Fetu, will premiere.
Co-director Grace Iwashita-Taylor, is a Poetry Idol, theatre director and playwright. She’s familiar with writing festival environments. And Pasifika writers who have spoken about uncomfortable experiences, and the pressure of representation.
“For a couple of years, I had this thought – wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Moana Writers festival? And then it just unfolded last year, the spark, the fire, really ignited,” She says.
Grace teamed up with scholar, critic and writer Lana Lopesi to develop the Flying Fetu festival.
“It is definitely a community response to a need that has been there for a while, because it unapologetically centres Moana writers in writing, not on the fringe, not exoticized. You turn up there and just exist without having to explain anything at all.”
It’s the first time Lana and Grace have collaborated.
“I knew Lana through her work and I have immense respect and alofa for her,” Grace says.
“I shared the idea and she was all for it straight away. She was like, ‘it’s time. Like, let’s do this. Let’s build (the writing festival) that’s needed instead of trying to change and shift things that already exist.’”
Lana moved with her family to Oregon in August to take up a position as Assistant Professor in the department of Indigenous Race and Ethnic Studies, University of Oregon. The co-directors have collaborated digitally since then.
Flying Fetu will be held at The Basement Theatre in Auckland city where Grace’s international theatre show Upu first played.
The programme offers ten sessions with Moana writers of books, and other art, including Poetry Ockham Award winner Tusiata Avia, award winning actor and director Nathaniel Lees, slam poet Eric Soakai, poet and reviewer Leilani Tamu, and lyricist Teremoana Rapley. As well as performance artist and playwright Leki Jackson-Bourke, Michel Mulipola, the wrestler and wordsmithing dancer, Jahra Wasasala.
“We have 37 writers involved in the festival from so many different art forms,” Grace says.
“So artists of upu, those that are on the screen, those that are on stage, those that use their bodies. Like they might write something and then they embody it through their physical self.
“I mean, we have a wrestler you know. The narrative required to put on a wrestling match is huge.”
While launching Flying Fetu in the Basement theatre feels appropriate given the span of artists involved, the intention is for it to be a moving feast.
“It might travel around Aotearoa, it might not stay in Auckland, it might go to other places in the Pacific,” says Grace.
“It’s a vaka so it should be moving. It shouldn’t be stagnant. It’ll shift and change. So come and see it in its first form. Help us give birth to the festival.”
Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity.