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A Festschrift for Francis Nii

A rare group photo of Francis Nii with fellow writers Daniel Kumbon, Philip Fitzpatrick, Martyn Namorong and Keith Jackson (Brisbane Writers Festival, 2016)


NOOSA – In Germany a Festschrift is a book honouring a respected person. It is generally presented during their lifetime, although it can also be a memorial.

PNG Attitude’s Festschrift for the late author Francis Nii will take the form of an edited volume of Francis’s most significant essays, articles, poetry and commentary, his ideas and achievements and it will include fellow writers’ observations of his work, his methods and his life.

To create a national literature is not just gathering a few people in a backroom to write and talk, although it may start from such conversations - of which Papua New Guinea has had many.

Such a grand enterprise of course requires writers, and prominent ones, because by definition a literature is built from the creative urge of essayists and poets and novelists and the commentariat and the rest.

But it also requires publishers, mentors, advocates, marketers, teachers, petitioners and, arguably most important of all, administrators – those planners and organisers and networkers and negotiators – who can bring everything together, make an industry of it and give it a future.

I only ever met one man in Papua New Guinea who had the capability to put all of those demands together.

He was the man in the wheelchair and hospital bed in the Four Corner Town, Kundiawa.

Francis Sina Nii.

Francis was a writer who also understood the business of writers - its administrative and technical complexity.

With virtually no resources (and those he acquired were often stolen from him), he put together a micro industry.

His was a tour de force without resources. Nothing represented this more than his tapping out a novel on a mobile phone while lying on a rough hospital bed surrounded by the noise and emotion of sickness and death.

A Francis Nii who had the support and recognition he deserved could have provided for Papua New Guinea the cultural and educational agency literature could offer.

He could have created the legacy required to achieve those PNG national goals that after 45 years have proved as elusive as they are grand.

Too often it is that only when a man dies do we fully realise the qualities that have been lost to us and do we come to appreciate the full extent of his talents and understand the depth of his influence.

On this last Sunday, when Francis Nii died, along with the great grief many of us felt, we also realised we had lost both a good and courageous man and someone who knew what to do and - with the simple pragmatism required by the complex challenges he faced -  had managed to take it so far.

The intelligence, wisdom and creative energy  Francis Nii possessed and which drove his ragged body to great heights of achievement now need to be harnessed by others.

What Francis knew and understood, as well as what he did, must not be lost but be built on.

That’s why we are asking readers of PNG Attitude and organisations that support the development of PNG literature to donate to THE FRANCIS NII COLLECTION – a project that will ensure that the multiplicity of talents Francis was able to deploy will not be lost even though the man himself is not with us.

We need people who value PNG literature, or who value literature in general, to donate to a fund that will help ensure that the words and deeds of Francis Nii endure and that he leave behind a legacy not just a reputation.

The money will initiate and produce a project to collect Francis’s most significant ideas, understandings, essays, articles, poetry and commentary into a book augmented by some of his fellow writers’ observations of his work, his methods and his legacy.

THE FRANCIS NII COLLECTION will honour Francis’s writing and other good works and provide a platform to continue his advocacy for the proper recognition and support of a home-grown Papua New Guinean literature.

A group of Papua New Guinean and Australian writers and supporters have begun to work on this project which will require a budget of about $10,000. Early commitments to the fund total over $2,000, which is a good start.

We are asking you to donate whatever you can afford – large or small – to make this project a success. And to encourage others to do the same.

As well as our gratitude, all donations of $50 or over will receive first edition copies of THE FRANCIS NII COLLECTION.

Bank transfers can be made to:

ChairKeith Jackson
National Australia Bank
BSB 082-302
Account 50650-1355

When you have made your gift, email me at [email protected] and let me know that you have been able to contribute to the Festschrift for Francis Nii.

His wheelchair is now empty but there is an important legacy to protect and advance.


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