TUMBY BAY – Someday soon perhaps, Papua New Guinean prime minister James Marape will put away his golf clubs and meet with a delegation of writers.
These writers, twice stood up by Mr Marape already, are hoping to present him with a petition calling for the PNG government to support a national literature that deserves recognition and requires support.
The writers, representing hundreds of their colleagues in PNG and writers worldwide, are ready to discuss with Mr Marape the benefits that will flow from a buoyant national literature and what needs to be done to achieve it.
And what needs to be done includes recognition of the value of writers, the encouragement of home-grown literature, getting books authored by Papua New Guineans into the education system, supporting local writers’ associations and assisting with a national literary competition.
The writers would like the prime minister to make a general statement of commitment to Papua New Guinean literature and to establish a working group to investigate how a national program to advance literature may be realised in practise.
An important part of the working group’s brief would probably include the establishment of a National Literature Board along the same lines as exists in other countries.
With such a broad commitment and implementation structure in place, planning could move on to more specific proposals, including but not limited to the following ideas.
The Board could be set up and housed in the National Library and supported by the Education Department but be independent of those institutions.
It should have its own funding, and a director and committee drawn from senior writers and other relevant groups.
Its overall role should be to actively promote Papua New Guinean literature in a way that avoids nepotism, favouritism and corruption.
The Board should manage an annual grants program for writers, editors and publishers.
It should also establish an annual national literature prize, along the lines of the Crocodile Prize, across a range of categories, with an annual anthology drawn from the best entries in the competition.
All this should be coordinated with an annual Writer’s Week circulating each year between cities and provinces. The board should publish.
Over time, the board should encourage, fund and support the establishment of writers’ centres in all provinces. These would ideally be housed in individual provincial libraries.
The board should play an active role in ensuring that appropriate works by Papua New Guinean writers are integrated into school curricula. Every school and educational institution should have included in its library a section including works by Papua New Guinean writers.
Beyond the establishment of a Board, the government needs to re-invigorate the national library system. There must be an adequately resourced public library in every provincial capital.
Given the parlous state of the national budget these proposals should be rendered into a staged and progressive plan involving not only the PNG government but businesses, churches and relevant international bodies.
If readers have other suggestions, you comments are welcome.
As background it might be worthwhile to read how literature was encouraged in Papua New Guinea before independence. An excellent history is provided here.
And also there is my own book on how the Crocodile Prize was established, 'Fighting for a Voice', and how it operated so effectively, if not without challenges, during its glory years.