A 'crazy' blueprint for a sustained literary project in PNG
10 March 2019
“If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic,
If we want to play against men, we’re nuts
And if we dream of equal opportunity, delusional.
When we stand for something, we’re unhinged.
When we’re too good there’s something wrong with us.
And if we get angry, we’re hysterical or irrational or just being crazy.
So if they want to call you crazy? Fine. Show them what crazy can do.”
(Tennis icon Serena Williams as narrator in ‘Dream Crazier’, Nike commercial ad)
BRISBANE – Each month Philip Fitzpatrick releases figures on book sales to all authors with titles under his Pukpuk Publications imprint.
And each month ‘My Walk to Equality’, first published to coincide with International Women’s Day two years ago, registers a few more sales.
Social media coverage has been instrumental in marketing the book and keeping it in front of readers. On a recent Saturday morning an email from individual in Canada informed me excitedly that her copy had just arrived in the post.
The modest royalties received from the sale of these books remain with Pukpuk Publications and are used to support the publication and distribution of titles by other PNG authors.
The walk to equality is a continuing journey.
A few weeks back ago, the MWTE Project received a $10,000 grant, courtesy of Paga Hill Estate’s CEO, Gudmundur (Gummi) Fridriksson, towards staging a readers and writers festival in Port Moresby later this year.
This had been envisaged as an outcome of last year’s Paga Hill MWTE Writer’s Fellowship, which had followed the publication of ‘My Walk to Equality’ and enabled me to develop a concept for the event.
For each occasion Mr Fridriksson has been a generous benefactor, I have maximised the opportunity by sharing my learning and experiences with others, especially Papua New Guinean girls and women. This has been assisted by PNG Attitude, the wide-reaching online blog has taken my words to PNG, Australia, other Pacific nations and beyond.
A readers and writers festival for Papua New Guineans is an ideal opportunity to showcase what Paga Hill Development Company’s investment has been able to do in encouraging a nation of readers and writers.
Since its inception, the MWTE project has functioned as a stand-alone enterprise.
Like most voluntary projects, it did not start with an enviable financial endowment. Relationships were sought, rapport built and nurtured, communication reciprocated, transparency and accountability at regular intervals have underpinned the longevity of the project.
But its vision has remained clear: to offer a space for PNG girls and women to participate in dialogue through writing. Always. There is no hesitation to reiterate boundaries, debate influence or disengage with destructive attitudes unhelpful to fulfilling the project’s goals.
Being referred to as ‘crazy’ is an unfortunate yet persistent descriptor I’ve experienced since being first published on PNG Attitude but especially so in my voluntary role as chair of the MWTE Project since 2016:
‘Crazy’ is managing the demands of your private life whilst devoting all your spare energy to immersing yourself in the craft, and making an effort to participate with the public community.
‘Crazy’ is being observant and having no illusions about who is genuine about contributing to your personal vision, and making a conscious effort to nurture open dialogue, mutual respect and a respect for the individual visions of those in the relationships.
‘Crazy’ is understanding the opportunity created for you and committing yourself to maximise positive outcomes for others and yourself.
‘Crazy’ is acknowledging your privilege at all times, irrespective of the situation, and using it to help others.
And yet, the MWTE project has demonstrated what is possible for contemporary PNG-authored literature because:
‘Crazy’ is taking ownership and responsibility for the leadership role you voluntarily insert yourself in.
‘Crazy’ is paying attention to those who have invested their time, attention and inviting them to guide you with mentorship.
Crazy’ is ensuring that every email, phone call or social media interaction that enquires or participates as a contributor to your vision is reciprocated.
‘Crazy’ is recognising that constraints are everywhere; irrespective of your location, trying, failing then trying again with different strategies is the only way obstacles are minimised.
‘Crazy’ is delivering every time by undertaking, delegating and completing tasks, attending meetings, delivering expected outcomes, writing articles and submitting project reports.
‘Crazy’ is being nominated as PNG’s country project for the United Nations Girls and Women’s Education Prize 2018.
But at Serena Williams has said, “When we’re too good there’s something wrong with us”.
A large number of individuals in the PNG writing community have been persistent in their diatribes against writers of the Papua New Guinean diaspora, especially women. It’s been an unfailing attack to perhaps rationalise or deflect from stunted domestic literary efforts whilst conveniently failing to acknowledge the diaspora’s role in impacting readers, contemporary writers and an audience, domestic and internationally.
But let me be clear….
‘Crazy’ had a vision, sought and received the full support of a dedicated team, and delivered a milestone book project in three months. On-schedule, transparent and accountable, no excuses made.
‘Crazy’ has worked hard to build, maintain and nurture relationships based on mutual respect.
‘Crazy’ has published articles, spoken in radio interviews and participated in Australian literary festivals to promote and encourage the purchase and readership of PNG-authored titles.
‘Crazy’ produced project reports detailing the expenditure and fulfilled expected outcomes of financial sponsorship. Every time.
‘Crazy’ has used the platform of the MWTE project to spend time sharing knowledge with the students in rural PNG primary schools, distributing books and bringing other issues of PNG social inequity and inequality to public discourse through action and regular, published writing.
‘Crazy’ has played a significant role in consistent monthly book sales over a two-year period, and remains committed to assisting all PNG writers through anthology royalties.
‘Crazy’ remains dedicated to supporting PNG girls and women writers, including their additional creative endeavours including audio podcasting, film, photography and blogging.
I have requested (and it has been agreed to) that the $10,0000 Paga Hill Development Company grant be diverted to PNG’s national literary competition, the Crocodile Prize, to enable its revival and literary efforts in 2019. And I hope and believe a readers and writers festival can be created along with this enterprise.
Not if it reinvigorates and rebuilds Papua New Guinea’s best attempt yet to sustain a national literature.
After all, there can be just a short footstep between crazy and inspired.
I've received some great feedback from Iona Roy, who advised me that my talk (points above) impressed many of the Secretariat members.
Extending from the few that approached me after Friday's event, Iona's feedback is energising. I hope it encourages the girls and women of PNG (especially in-country) to continue writing, knowing that women abroad are genuinely interested and wanting to learn from what we have to share.
I have also responded to Iona's invitation to forward my publication titles to the Secretariat's email circulation to all members. And so I have forwarded the purchase link for the My Walk to Equality anthology:
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 12 June 2019 at 07:27 AM
I had the great privilege of being an invited speaker for the Harmony Alliance Secretariat held in Brisbane yesterday.
Many thanks to the Secretariat's manager, Iona Roy, who emailed me several weeks ago asking if I would be agreeable to speak on women in leadership, using writing and media for proactive change for PNG, and the PNG- Australia relationship
Ending up on a room with filled with long time CEOs, directors, an Australian of the Year and Order of Australia recipients, I felt slightly overwhelmed and immensely underqualified.
However, there was an incredibly positive atmosphere and I delivered all my talking points, feeling energised and extremely encouraged.
I spoke on my writing, KJ as my mentor and major influence, and PNG Attitude as a platform that has circulated, connected and encouraged my writing elsewhere.
I spoke about leading the MWTE Project and observing the many fantastic projects that have come since, with MWTE co-authors leading their own projects now.
I spoke of Gummi Fridrikkson and Paga Hill Development Company's incredible support, the MWTE Writer's Fellowship and how it prepared me for my subsequent involvement with the Kokoda Trail.
I spoke about Major Charlie Lynn OAM and the opportunities he has given me to advocate for change for the people of the Trail.
I shared on how my writing about the Kokoda Trail trek tourism industry is now being developed into a body of work of four parts: 'Trail of Woe' (completed); a publication due for release in 2019; and two remaining pieces of long form writing I am now focused on.
I spoke of what leadership in all these activities has been like for me: the good, the bad, the ugly.
I learnt so much through the open and frank discussion of what it means to be a women in a position of leadership and how to become better and more effective.
I learnt a lot about understanding and refining my observation of the political and systemic processes at play.
I couldn't help but wonder if the same kind of helpful dialogue is held with women at similar women in leadership events in PNG.
I learnt an incredible amount of useful, practical information I plan on using to get better and more effective at what I'm trying to contribute to PNG nation building and its ongoing relationship with Australia.
I presented Iona Roy with a copy of the MWTE anthology as a thank-you gift for creating for me an opportunity to speak to an organisation that is funded by the Australian government's Office for Women.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 08 June 2019 at 07:56 AM
Ed and Lindsay, thank you so much! I appreciate your comments always.
Phil - Interestingly, I was just speaking to a friend about Krissy Kneen's 'Wintering' that we've both just read. . Kneen was on Stella Prize 2018 shortlist for another one of her titles. And she also acknowledges Melissa Lucashenko as one of her close friends as being in her writers circle.
Melissa Lucashenko is of course in this year's shortlist for the Stella Prize for 'Too Much Lip' - which I haven't read yet, but did get to hear her talk about during a few events I attend as part of the Fellowship activities.
The Stella Prize is a good model, particularly with its Wriring Prize. It would be great to have an annual MWTE Writing Prize and perhaps something a MWTE author contributor may like to discuss with me if they'd like to pursue setting up. I'm on firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 11 March 2019 at 04:49 PM
Thanks Philip Kai Morre for your comments.
I can assure you that this article wasn't produced as a result of "creating self-injury". I've documented this pattern of toxic behaviour numerous times on PNG Attitude in articles and the comments section. I hope you will take the time to search through the blog to better inform yourself on this issue.
If anything, this article might be best used as a template for other literary projects, especially led by those living in PNG.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 11 March 2019 at 04:36 PM
I imagine that you have already looked at it but the Stella Prize offers an interesting model Rashmii.
I was interested to note that most of the nominations for the prize this year were for books published by small independent publishers. That is an interesting trend and seems to be part of the new renaissance of hard copy book publishing everywhere.
For anyone interested check out the Stella Prize at:
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 10 March 2019 at 01:48 PM
Rashmii, The word crazy could mean many things with dirrerent paradoxes. I deal with crazy human beings every day as a addiction counsellor confronting drug addicts with all sorts of problems.
Some of those crazy human beings can think out of the box we normal human beings cannot comprehend. Their IQ and EQ levels could be high because they solve complex issues and keep inventing new ideas.
I learn a lot from this group of people of how to handle complex problems and issues affecting human beings.
The ancient philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, when confronted said, "I am not mad, or crazy, but I am different from your ways of thinking and doing things".
Eric Burne, the American psychologist, wrote a best seller. 'Transactional Analysis', despite negative criticism and comments from his contemporaries that he was crazy. I got a copy of his book which greatly assists me in my work especially individual counselling.
Women writers like Rashmil needed to be optimistic and walk high among others rather than creating self injury with emotions and putting themselves down. You are too noble with your intuition to worry about problems and feeling inferior.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 10 March 2019 at 01:05 PM
Some, too many, are finding voice before finding vision. Social media evidences its infancy.
Sum to many who found and fund vision, sound choice. Society is elevated by their pliancy.
Rashmii conducts a training of thought, mainlining reason.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 10 March 2019 at 12:54 PM
I believe in Crocodile Prize' s vision and respected its work und impact when run by its founders, Phil and KJ.
For the reasons stated above, I have lost all desire to collaborate with Papua New Guineans who have at any stage assumed control, leadership or key roles in the competition.
The benefits of the MWTE Writer Fellowship was in fact being able to observe a variety of literary festivals, including an very small-scale,inaugural festival of which I envisioned replicating; with consideration to budget and an operational team comprised of individuals with whom I believe would contribute to producing an inspiring event for attendees.
I wish the CP team the best and hope that what I have described from my experience of steering MWTE, assists in making wise investments with the $10,000.
I thank KJ, Phil and especially Gummi Fridriksson for their understanding and unwavering support for MWTE's goals. .
If it is possible, I do have every intention of demonstrating my Fellowship-acquired learnings and skills to stage a literary festival event, through a separate occasion in PNG later this year.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 10 March 2019 at 11:07 AM
In the early years of the Crocodile Prize we attached a 'writer's workshop' to the event.
The workshop ran the whole day of the event and then in the evening we had the awards ceremony.
Those workshops were more of an exchange of ideas and experiences than a direct teaching exercise. We had guest authors like Russell Soaba and Trevor Shearston involved who talked about their books and the processes involved in producing them.
The workshops were in many ways what happens at a writer's festival, albeit on a small scale.
It seems to me that it would be easy to continue the conjunction between the awards ceremony and a workshop re-badged as a festival.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 10 March 2019 at 09:29 AM
Exceedingly well said, and done, Rashmii
Posted by: Ed Brumby | 10 March 2019 at 07:02 AM