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Hard yards for writers in PNG – but some redeeming features


TUMBY BAY -  After some years working with Papua New Guinean writers I have come to the view that the only way forward is for them to become as individually independent as possible.

These years involved me and others trying to maintain a viable national literary competition by squeezing funds out of sponsors and banging our heads against the apathy of established publishers and governments.

It also involved attempts to help organise writers into sustainable collectives dedicated to literature.

It is not a career choice I would recommend to anyone.

I should have perhaps known from my days as a kiap that organising autonomous bodies in Papua New Guinea is like herding cats. It just doesn’t work.

You can do it once, and occasionally twice, but after that everything just fizzles away and enthusiasm dies.

This is not to say that there have not been some amazing successes and worthwhile gains.

One of these was the recognition that there are some prodigiously talented writers in PNG.

Another was the discovery that there are individuals who love and value literature in the country and are dedicated to its success.

Unfortunately these people are too few in number and too scattered to be an effective force as envoys of the written word.

The tyranny of distance is a problem that will continue to plague development in many fields in Papua New Guinea for years to come.

It is therefore heartening to have benefited from improved technologies that can assist Papua New Guinean writers along that journey.

Chief among these are the establishment of digital publishing, including ebooks and print-on-demand facilities.

These global developments have legitimised and given what was once called vanity publishing a degree of respectability and has nullified its exploitative nature.

Well-known and established writers now use these facilities in conjunction with more formalised publishing outlets, especially where they want to be free of invasive editorial control.

This is how I think Papua New Guinean writers can best become independent and control their work - right through from creation to marketing.

What concerns me is the slow uptake of this opportunity by writers.

I suspect this relates to the hard work involved. From my experience with Pukpuk Publications, I know many writers prefer to hand over half-baked manuscripts in the expectation that someone else will fix them and see to their publication.

It’s a curious paradox, writers put in the hard creative work then suddenly become lazy.

There are exceptions of course. People like Baka Bina seized on the new technologies from the word go and hasn’t looked back. Michael Dom and Leonard Roka also recognised the possibilities early in the piece and produced their own books.

Another adopter was Jordan Dean. He has not only used the new technology to produce his own work but has taken to assisting other writers to use it. The Simbu Writer’s Association is doing something similar under the guidance of Francis Nii.

This is an exciting development and may be a valuable addition to individual writers doing their own thing. Small cells of writers helping each other could be another way forward for literature in Papua New Guinea.

There have been some significant issues related to the Crocodile Prize aired on social media and elsewhere in the last couple of months and I’m not sure its future is assured.

At the same time I am comfortable that no matter what happens it has done its job and revived and given new life to what was a moribund literary scene in Papua New Guinea.

That in itself is a worthwhile achievement.


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Jordan Dean

I know Phil. That's why I keep running to you for advice. You the best!

Philip Fitzpatrick

Your books are better laid out Jordan but I win on the editing.

It's because I'm older I think - less computer savvy but more time with words.

But if you can do it and an old fart like me can do it there's no reason why most PNG writers can't do it.

Moses Maladina is a writer too Michael. His novel 'Tabu' was reviewed on PNG Attitude years ago.

Michael Dom

Moses Maladina owns Ambai's bookshop at Jackson's International terminal.

Ambai's has a good collection of books by Soaba, Stella, Winduo and the likes.

Very expensive but.

Jordan Dean

For PNG writers to be independent, we need dedicated people like Phil who can spend their time editing, mentoring, and promoting our books.

The people we look up to for advice and guidance like Dr. Winduo, Russel Soaba and John Kasaipwalova have busy work schedules. That leaves us with no choice but to do things our way.

I've published eight books already using the same platform that Pukpuk Publications uses and I think I am on par or better. That is, I am quite good at it already. So publishing is not an issue.

The issue is getting those books onto the shelves of our libraries and bookshops in the country.

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