RASHMII BELL & CAROLINE EVARI
BRISBANE & PORT MORESBY - A recent collaborative article by Keith Jackson and Rashmii Bell celebrated a number of Papua New Guinean women considered influential in terms of the theme of 2019 International Women’s Day, ‘Think smart, build smart, innovate for change’.
The eleven women profiled impressed an audience of more than 4,000 people and generated wide interest and hopefully admiration for the efforts of these women.
Shortly after the article appeared, I received an email from a Lae-based women’s collective enquiring about the process of compiling and publishing an anthology.
I referred the budding authors to PNG Attitude, my own extensively documented experience with ‘My Walk to Equality’ and Francis Nii’s discussion about publishing as a Papua New Guinean author.
I also encouraged them to engage with the newly-launched Crocodile Prize 2019.
After further thought, I also saw this as an opportunity to learn more about a project undertaken by one of the eleven women profiled, Alphonse Huvi, who had my genuine admiration as a literary innovator. Alphonse had just successfully published the Devare Adventist High School Anthology.
In a three year long distance conversation with Alphonse I had captured an understanding of her creative writing interests, despite an unreliable internet, and her pursuit of a professional career as a teacher in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
At about the same time, the collaboration with Keith Jackson inspired me to work with writer Caroline Evari in embarking on an interview with Alphonse.
Upon the completion of my Paga Hill writer’s fellowship last year, I was contacted by Caroline who sought mentorship with a focus on developing skills I had acquired through the various activities and influential mentors associated with my development as a writer.
This article is our collaborative effort.
Throughout the process of this project, my admiration for Alphonse further deepened as a result of her vigour, diligence and enthusiasm to share her experience. From initial contact through to the interview’s conclusion, Alphonse was fastidious in keeping me informed of her progress.
So here in its entirety is Caroline’s interview with Alphonse Huvi.
Caroline Evari: Can you explain how you came up with the idea for the anthology, and who you worked with to receive submissions, edit and publish?
Alphonse Huvi: The Devare Adventist High School Anthology was a solo project. During our Social Science and English lessons there were some exercises that required writing and that’s when the opportunity arose.
I created assignments out of the exercises for the students, marked the assignments and handed it back to the students to see their marks. After seeing their marks, they return the assignments to me and I start typing and editing them.
My intention for the book was to have it typed and printed for the students to read as compiled stories. Our library did not have a lot of reading books, so I told my students, “Why don’t we write and get to read the stories ourselves?” As I typed the manuscripts, I realised how good the students were in expressing themselves and this prompted me to compile their writings for publication.
The students who contributed to this anthology have moved on. I try to keep in touch with them via Facebook or catch up with them when they visit the Unity Library or the Public Library in Buka and Arawa to read their stories in the anthology.
I have donated a copy of the anthology to the Unity Library in Buka and will also donate a copy to the Arawa Public Library. I have also informed the students that even if they do not make it back to Devare Adventist High School, their siblings and relatives will read their work and to see it as a contribution to the reading capability of those that come after them.
There were 138 students from the Challenge Takers class who contributed towards the anthology and 24 additional contributors who contributed in 2017. A total of 162 students have accepted the challenge as pioneer writers in contributing towards the Devare Adventist High School Anthology.
Caroline: What was the theme for your anthology, and why was this theme chosen?
Alphonse: Every year at Devare, our graduating Grade 10s would choose a class name. The ones who completed Grade 10 in 2016 chose the class name ‘Challenge Takers’ and their class motto was: ‘Journey but not Destiny’.
I used their motto as the theme, ‘Journey but not Destiny’, because what they have written will stay on for others to read. It also means that their journey in education does not end.
Caroline: What type of writing is in the anthology?
Alphonse: The book is a collection of jokes, legends, poems, riddles and short stories.
Caroline: What was your timeframe for your anthology project, from submissions process to book publication?
Alphonse: I type like a snail, so it took me four years to compile this anthology. The first two years of typing was while the Challenge Takers were still in school in 2015-2016. It was then that I sought interest from the other 24 contributors who also gave me their submissions.
I continued typing and editing through 2017 and finalised everything in 2018 before sending the manuscript to Philip Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson hoping to get it published by the Pukpuk Publications. Philip and Keith advised me to check with Jordan Dean of JDT Publications as Pukpuk Publications was winding down. Through JDT Publications, and after four years of typing, the anthology was published.
Caroline: Could you briefly describe the contributors to the anthology, their age range where are they from, and have they always been interested writing?
Alphonse: At Devare Adventist High School, the students are grouped into six cultural groups according to the primary schools they come from or where they reside. Every Sunday evening, they have fellowships in these groups.
Their student leaders also took the lead in this activity and it enabled them to get together and communicate in their local vernacular language, Tok Pisin or English. The six cultural groups and where the authors come from: Buin- 33 students; Kieta- 20 students; Nagovis/Siwai/Torokina/ Kunua/Kereaka- 36 students; Wakunai-24 students; Taonita Teop Tinputz-28 students; Buka/Atolls- 21 students.
Most of the students were born in these three-year categories: 1992-1994 - 19 students; 1995-1999 - 132 students; 2000-2002 - 11 students.
After typing a few pages of the manuscript in the first two years, I interviewed each student and told them of my intention to publish their work. I also explained the process of copyright to them. Most of them were not exposed to writing so I explained that they are the authors of the book I’m compiling. It was a morale booster for them knowing that their names would appear in the book and they urged me to continue.
Just recently I met some of the authors and showed them their published work in the Devare Adventist High School Anthology and when they flipped through the book they said things like: “Ai turu ah? Laka? Neim blong mi stap tu lo buk. Na planti lain bai ridm stori blong mi tu?” [Is it for real? Gosh! My name is in the book. Will many people read my story?]
When I nodded in approval they gave me their best smile and said: Thank you.
Caroline: Can you describe your process, for example, what did you do each day to make sure you finished the anthology in the timeframe you set for yourself?
Alphonse: I am a teacher. Some say being a teacher is like having a headache. But for some of us, teaching is our passion and so is writing. I sometimes teach 20 or 30 periods in a week depending on the subject loads per year.
Teaching a smaller number of lessons is much better as I would some have free periods to do extra work. I made us of the free periods I had to complete the book. Currently I am teaching 14 periods of English for two Grade 9 classes and 20 periods of Personal Development for the four Grade 10 classes our school have.
Caroline: Can you describe the things that made your anthology project easy to deliver?
Alphonse: Although not a regular contributor to the PNG Attitude blog, I stop by regularly to read. This has helped me to seek answers to my unsolved questions about who to negotiate with. Taking part in the Crocodile Prize literary competition also helped me to establish connections with Philip Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson whom I very much acknowledged for everything that was done.
When my piece ‘My Challenging life’ appeared in the My Walk to Equality Anthology, this encouraged me to also promote the students work I was doing.
Caroline: Can you describe the things that made it challenging to produce your anthology- how did you overcome these difficulties?
Alphonse: The Digicel tower at Devare went up in flames in June 2015, so we had to walk 30 minutes to the Kepesia beach to get signals from other networks. I would bring my laptop to and fro to do emails. Once in 2016, I was trying to send a submission when the sea waves went right up to where I was sitting and washed everything I was using.
I tried to control the tears that swelled in my eyes, but it was no use. I blamed myself for being careless with my laptop. My hopes were crushed. I stopped working for quite a while. After purchasing another laptop, I continued typing again. Typing the manuscript and saving it to a flash drive saved my efforts.
In the first two years of typing the manuscript there was enough power supply from the school’s generator to the staff house I was occupying. In the last two years of typing, I had to carry my laptop to the administration block seeking power.
I tried to get help from the people around me, but everyone seemed busy. I utilised my weekends, the holiday breaks and non-contact periods to do the typing. I nearly gave up hope and often asked myself what I was doing. But I had promised my contributors that they would one day read what I was typing so that promise kept me going.
The anthology My Walk to Equality was compiled in 2016 by Rashmii Amoah Bell and published quickly. That was like a challenge to me, so I tried my best to type the students’ work quickly.
Caroline: What are your plans for future publishing? Will there be a volume 2?
Alphonse: There is another collection of stories underway. The manuscript is in typing process. With the tight schedule of teaching I will try my very best to complete it.
Caroline: How can readers support your project work? How can readers purchase copies of the anthology?
Alphonse: Currently, there are no established distribution channels for PNG writers. Authors must market their books themselves. There are two options: purchase directly from Amazon if readers have a Visa card or purchase from the author.
The readers can support my work by purchasing copies from the school which we have ordered. The contributions will help our library. We are in Buka, so the reader will have to meet the cost of the book plus airfreight via Office Express Mail Service (EMS) or DHL.
Caroline: Please add anything else you would like readers to know about your anthology project, your feelings about the experience of delivering the project.
Alphonse: Seeking funds from sponsors to do something sometimes take a long time. The reason why I have compiled the Devare Adventist High School Anthology is to use the skills in writing that our students had to do something worthwhile. I told them that if we had to start something, the best approach is by using the available resources and that is our human resource as in skills in writing.
The Chairman of the Board of Governing Council of Devare and President of the Bougainville SDA Mission, Pastor Andrew Opis, was willing to do the book launch during a recent meeting. To acknowledge the writers, I gave extra copies of writing pieces to some current Grade 9 students who were siblings to the Challenge Takers to read their older siblings writing piece during the launching.
I am targeting the schools where t most of the anthology have attended to give a free copy to the library. Those who are in the villages can have a look at the anthology when they come to the school to pick their certificates. Those living around Central Bougainville and South Bougainville will also have the chance to read their writing pieces from a copy donated to the Arawa Public Library.
Those from North Bougainville will read theirs from a copy donated to Unity Library in Buka. I want the contributing students to read what they have written while they were students at Devare. It will then encourage them to continue to write or give them pride knowing that they achieved something in writing.