Author FRANCIS NII has prepared a wonderful presentation for his participation in the Brisbane Writers Festival. The slide show tells how, in Simbu Province, a group of writers began to build a prototype of the administrative infrastructure that would be required for the development of a national literature in Papua New Guinea.
The following transcript, taken from Francis’s Powerpoint presentation, provides a good summary of the sophisticated approach the group took to creating a model for the establishment of a regional literary presence in Simbu and beyond. You can download the full Powerpoint presentation here
In search of literary excellence in our highlands province of Simbu….
....we had an idea & were prepared to work hard and without compensation to realise it….
....we wanted to encourage the present generation to write and be published….
.....and we wanted to assist the next generation to excel in literature through reading, writing and speaking English.
The Crocodile Prize national literary awards were established in PNG in 2011 and have been held each year since.
This was the first significant effort to revive a PNG literature which had collapsed after independence in 1975.
The Prize has spun off an extensive publishing program and a nascent network of writers’ associations.
It has never received significant government or aid donor support.
It is a wonderful joint achievement of PNG and Australia.
The pioneering Simbu Writers Association is born at Mt Wilhelm Tourist Hotel, Kundiawa - 6 May 2014.
We began to visit schools, talking to students and teachers about the Crocodile Prize literary contest.
We presented the Simbu for Literary Excellence concept to head teachers and principals to get their support.
We gave books written by Simbu authors to schools to show our people that we can write & publish books.
We travelled to remote areas of the province to bring the message of literature to schools and to the people.
We covered lots of ground and talk to many hundreds of people.
Once, disgruntled youths held us up thinking we were the Governor & local politicians. We gave them a book to let us pass.
Sometimes the roads were so bad we couldn’t get through (but that doesn’t happen often, we’re very determined).
PNG’s former Attorney General, Hon Kerenga Kua MP, launched the pioneering Ku High School Anthology of students’ writing in late 2014.
He also gave K20,000 towards hosting the 2015 Crocodile Prize award ceremony in Kundiawa.
As more books became available, we grabbed whatever transport we could to deliver them - including ambulances and police vehicles.
We kicked off students’ contests in essays, short stories & poetry – here are the judges at work in April 2015.
It was with great pride that we held the first literary awards day in Simbu. Now we knew our project was succeeding.
A guard of honour of a Simbu cultural group & community police greeted official guests at the 2015 literary awards.
SOME OF THE SWA OUTPUT
Publication of Ku High School Anthology 2014.
Publication of one novel, two poetry books, four collections and two educational books by Simbu authors to mid-2016.
Successfully hosted 2015 Crocodile Prize awards.
Currently in the pipeline: My Simbu, a history of Simbu by Mathias Kin; Aiwara (Tears), a novel by Francis Nii; Dedication, poetry by Jimmy Awagl.
We are solving the writing and production issues; we now need to build readership to avoid discouraging writers and potential writers.
Schools do not have funds to buy books and do not get them unless they are made available free of cost.
There is a disappointing lack of support both from government and aid donors to supply PNG-authored books.
We now need to expand writers’ organisations throughout PNG so we never again lose touch with our own literature.
My heartfelt gratitude goes to Keith Jackson AM and the PNG Attitude blog; Prof Ken McKinnon AO; and the Paga Hill Development Company all of who developed the fellowship program which made my trip possible.
Thank you also to Philip Fitzpatrick, Bob Cleland, Val Rivers and other good friends of PNG for their work in mentoring and reviving PNG literature.
A nation without literature is a people with lost identity.