NZF Writers & Readers: Charlie Jane Anders – Beautiful Fantasy

Tara Black reviews Charlie Jane Anders – Beautiful Fantasy, and below that – Elizabeth Heritage also reviews it, with lots more words! They both did beautifully!

NWF18 Charlie Jane Anders

A small but devoted crowd turned out this morning in the festival tent to hear Christchurch spec fic writer AJ Fitzwater interview Charlie Jane Anders. Anders is a transgender speculative fiction writer and organiser from the US: ‘willing to be a bad influence for a good cause’. It was very pleasing to see two women on stage each with pink hair (I may be a little biased).

Negotiating stereotypes and tropes is a topic that often comes up in conversations about spec fic, and that’s where we started. Anders talked about how the stereotype is that science fiction is masculine, and fantasy is feminine. Often a fantasy character will say to a sci fi character, “this is something you can’t possibly understand” – ‘for a man to say that to a woman just bugs the hell out of me’. In Anders’ novel All the Birds in the Sky, Laurence, the male character who is a computer scientist, ‘cries early and often’. He’s less sexist than many techy guys and ‘that made me like him more – and I really wanted to like him.’

All the Birds in the Sky follows the two central characters from when they are children. Anders said she wanted to honour that teens are often more introspective and noodly than adults. ‘I was much more articulate at the age of 13 than I am now. I talked like a college professor because my parents were college professors. 13 was the age that nearly wiped me off the face of the earth.’

Anders was learning disabled as a child: ‘I couldn’t make words on paper’. She was helped by a teaching assistant with whom she is still friends. https://www.buzzfeed.com/charliejane/how-being-a-special-ed-student-turned-me-into-a-lifelong-wri?utm_term=.wsgWWE3rRB#.kjrJJlDyBZ She said if she writes disabled characters she will always take care to do so mindfully.

Anders and Fitzwater had a great rapport on stage, which always makes a difference: at one point Anders commented ‘these are the best questions ever!’ One of her questions was in relation to the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin – what do we owe Le Guin to do now?

Anders said her next novel that comes out in January 2019 is Le Guin fan-fiction, and she’s sad she’ll never get to show it to her. What we owe Le Guin to do now is to approach gender in books mindfully, and to think about the ways in which societies are not just mechanistic. Cultures are made up of more than just what’s on the surface: historical accidents, folklore, deep history.

Fitzwater asked about Anders’ short story “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue”, a terrifying dystopian tale of forced de-transition. Anders said: ‘I tweeted out a trigger warning for that story, which I don’t usually do. The story came out of just sheer terror. I wrote it around the time of the [US presidential] inauguration, and I was freaking out. You could already see the wave coming.’ It was published in the Boston Review. Anders said she wanted to get that story into a fancy literary magazine because she wanted nice, well-meaning cis-gender people to face the terror of violent transphobia and have a moment of sitting with that.

‘I wanted to grab cis people by the lapels and make them listen to my fear.’ Trans people are not ‘some monstrous creature from your id coming into your bathroom scaring your kids’. She has had feedback from readers that it has been opening some people’s minds.

Discussion turned to the theme of climate change. Anders said: ‘If you’re writing about the future and you’re not including climate change then you’re shirking your duty.’ She said you have to face up to the scale of the problem without getting defeatist.

‘Environmentalism can get a bit puritanical, like humans are just bad.’ But that isn’t helpful: you need to focus on solutions. ‘How the hell are we going to get rid of cars and bitcoin?’ She recommended that spec fic writers talk to scientists to help get it right.

The City in the Middle of the Night, the sequel to All the Birds in the Sky, comes out in January 2019.

Picture by Tara Black, words by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchurch: Embracing Te Reo

WORD Christchurch: Embracing Te Reo

This was one of the warmest, most welcoming, and most inspirational sessions of WORD Christchurch 2018. To Hana O’Regan (Kāti Rakiāmoa, Kāti Ruahikihiki, Kāi Tūāhuriri, Kāti Waewae), Hemi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whāoa), Miriama Kamo (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāi Tahu) and Jeanette King – ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

Embracing-Te-ReoKing, a Pākehā scholar of bilingualism, chaired the session. O’Regan, one of the leadership team at Te Rūnunga o Ngāi Tahu and an internationally recognised reo expert, said she’s excited that te reo Māori seems to be having a cultural moment: ‘We need that passion.’ Kelly, a translator and AUT lecturer, said there’s a massive growth in people wanting to learn te reo, which he attributes to the fruition of initiatives put in place 30 or 40 years ago. Well-known journalist and broadcaster Kamo said she’s pleased to see all the goodwill, but cautioned that te reo ‘has gone from severely endangered to endangered’. She would love to see Aotearoa’s history taught in schools, not so we can feel guilt but so we can all understand together.

O’Regan spoke about the benefits of learning te reo Māori. ‘You enhance the cognitive ability of your child if you raise them in two languages.’ We need to get over the propaganda that te reo won’t help you get a job, travel overseas, etc. ‘The world has been opened up to me because of my language and my work within it.’ Kamo agreed, saying that jobs are changing, and that if you have te reo you’ll have job security, since NZ employers are increasingly requiring it, particularly in the public sector. ‘The world will change around you but you’ll be okay.’

cv_a_maori_word_a_dayKing articulated a nervousness that a lot of Pākehā feel, that by trying a bit of te reo you’re being tokenistic and racist – particularly if you trip up and get it wrong. The panel all said this was not so. Kamo said ‘I love to hear people trying.’ Kelly said that te reo is our language for all New Zealanders, and O’Regan added: ‘Learning the language is a sign of respect. It’s not tokenistic or belittling – quite the opposite!’ The next generation will benefit from us now trying and pitching in, and having their language upheld and reflected back to them. ‘Go grab all your relations, and get them all doing it!’

O’Regan admitted that, even with all the excellent reo resources we have these days, it can still be hard to find places and spaces to practise your reo. I myself am learning te reo Māori and am in that very awkward phase of sort of being able to string a phrase or two together but not being confident enough to attempt actual conversation with other humans. So I would like to issue a general invitation now to everyone reading – please come and join me in my Awkward Reo Club, either online or if you see me in Pōneke. I recommend the following:

  •  This post on The Spinoff listing free and cheap reo classes around the country
  • Ask your employer to provide reo Māori classes as professional development – if you’re in Pōneke I highly recommend Kūwaha Ltd
  • The bilingual podcast Taringa (which has probably the best intro music of any podcast ever)
  •  Te Aka Māori dictionary (free online http://maoridictionary.co.nz/ or a few dollars for the app)
  • The Facebook group Starting in Te Reo Māori
  • Make your shopping list bilingual – I did this using Te Aka and my copy of Māori at Home by Scotty and Stacey Morrison. My fave so far is wīti-pīki (weetbix)

I was particularly heartened to hear Kamo say ‘I’ve been on a lifelong stop-start journey with my reo’, and that it’s fine to not be that great at it, especially right away. I went straight out and bought Kelly’s book A Māori Word A Day and got him to sign it for me. I am delighted to discover that the first word is āe (yes) and the second is aihikirīmi (ice cream). Nau mai, haere mai!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
DISUNITEDKINGDOM-NEW
David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.

Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.

As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.

Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’

Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.

I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Denise Mina is a  Crime Writer who won the 2017 McIlvanney Crime Novel of the Year for Long Drop

Ed Husain is the writer of The Islamists and The House of Islam  

WORD Christchurch: Sonya Renee Taylor – The Body Is Not An Apology

The Body is not an Apology is available in bookshops nationwide. 

Seeing a fat woman on stage talking about how beautiful she is feels drastic – decadent – almost illegal. Experiencing Sonya Renee Taylor being genuinely not just okay with her fat body but loving it was a shock and an enlightenment. There’s another way. Body shame is neither natural nor compulsory. There’s another way. HOLY COW. At one point she joked ‘I’m not Jesus’, but I have to tell you, I’m not sure that’s true.
Sonya-Renee-Taylor
Taylor is a queer fat black American performance poet and businesswoman who’s residing in Aotearoa for a few years as part of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. She is the creator and leader of The Body Is Not An Apology movement, which preaches radical self love. This session was programmed and chaired by Tusiata Avia, who opened by inviting us to feel the mana whenua under our beautiful bodies. Soon we were also feeling the aroha as we basked in Taylor’s and Avia’s combined presences.

Radical self love is related to body positivity and fat acceptance but has a wider remit and greater ambition. Taylor says that her goal is nothing less than to entirely dismantle the oppressive systems that tell us that some bodies are better than others: racism, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and so on. Radical self love starts by looking inwards – ‘We cannot create externally what we have not created internally’ – but is expansive and contagious. Unlike self-confidence, which is fleeting and individualistic, radical self love means that ‘I never doubt my inherent enoughness even when I’m not feeling pretty’. Radical self love is solid even when everything on top of it is shaking.

cv_my_body_is_not_an_apology.jpgTaylor said that there is no such thing as a toddler with body shame: we are born ‘magnificent and full of wonder’. (Later on, British poet Hollie McNish would make the same point.) The shame we seem to all end up feeling is learned and comes from what Taylor calls the ‘body terrorism’ of the global body shame profit complex: everything from the diet and beauty industries to pat-downs in airports.

One of the hierarchical systems Taylor wants to destroy is the widespread belief that ‘healthy’ bodies are better than ‘unhealthy’ ones: ‘Health is not a state we owe the world.’ And in the meantime, while most medical institutions are operating on the mistaken assumption that being fat is inherently unhealthy, ‘fatphobia is killing people’.

Taylor is an extraordinary stage presence. She is loud in the very best sense of the word: confident, generous, and captivating. As with Comfortable In Your Skin (which Taylor was also a part of), it felt like one of those magical festival events where exactly the right people had found themselves at exactly the right event. We were a responsive audience, often clapping, clicking, murmuring agreement – even crying a little. We ran over time because Taylor and Avia both shared with us their poems: Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology’ and Avia’s ‘Apology’, both on the same theme. We clapped and clapped and clapped, and then all rushed out to buy Taylor’s book and get her to sign it for us. Taylor has given us the gift of an alternative path, and I could feel her words go right to the heart of me. Ngā mihi nui e te rangatira.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchurch: The Body is not an Apology

The Body is not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
by Sonya Renee Taylor
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers
ISBN 9781626569768

WORD Christchurch: Mortification

WORD Christchurch: Mortification

After a hectic day getting riled up about Brexit and then learning to Vogue the FAFSWAG way, I settled down with relief for some good old-fashioned storytelling.

WORD Christchurch director Rachael King took to the stage first to introduce the Mortification session, inspired by an anthology of the same name edited by Robin Robertson in which writers tell stories of their public shame. She was joined in person by Robertson, Paula Morris, Steve Braunias, Megan Dunn, and Jarrod Gilbert; and in spirit by Irvine Welsh.

After a brief word from Robertson we were treated to a video from Welsh, who told a truly horrifying story of having shat himself in public and then trying to clean himself up in a filthy public loo. The tale also involved being laughed at by a bunch of drunk Glaswegians while standing naked from the waist down trying to wash himself in the sink. So gross – yet so funny. He really set the tone.

Morris was up next. ‘I have no public befoulings’ she said, to my relief, but instead told a story of ‘a thousand small humiliations’, often involving miniskirts. ‘I have the legs of a Polynesian seafarer and they need to be on display’ – but various wardrobe malfunctions have meant ‘once again feeling the breeze where the breeze should not be felt’. Her story of being perched awkwardly on a posh chair at an opera concert ‘vagina on velvet’ was particularly well told – and most women will be able to relate to the mortification of an unexpected period just when you’ve chosen to wear white trousers.

Braunias’ story was beautifully composed, with apparently unrelated details all coming together at the end. He first said he’d spied Helen Clark here at WORD, ‘storming along like a southerly in slacks’, before reminiscing about his life as a young man in Wellington – ‘the city felt like a jagged edge’ – refusing to go on his OE because NZ was too strange and baffling to leave. I can’t do justice to the story without relating it in full – hopefully there will be a second volume of Mortification and you’ll be able to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that I will never see the back of Helen Clark’s head the same way again.

Dunn took us in a completely different direction with a tale of trying to be a mermaid – including repeated use of the term ‘mermazing’ which I now wish to work into my everyday conversations. As part of her research for her forthcoming book, she took a mermaiding class in Florida, where ‘the heat sat on my skin like processed cheese’. She was told to undulate not just her body but also her head and neck: ‘I felt really dumb’. But she gave it a try – ‘middle age is gamely keeping going’ – despite a ‘deep sense of ugliness that’s hard to shake’. Dunn concluded that her happy place is in a bookshop, not the water, where mermaids are safely sealed within the pages of books ‘where they bloody should be’.

Our final storyteller was Gilbert, who told the story of trying to win a bet to run a marathon in three and a half hours. This involved him striding to the centre of the stage to act out a particularly mortifying episode from his training whereby he had to take an emergency dump in public on the side of the Sumner causeway, ‘possibly the most exposed piece of geography on earth’. He called the marathon ‘cruel and despicable insanity’ – but he did win the bet when he finished with a time of 3 hours 28 minutes. ‘It’s very difficult for me to describe just how little satisfaction that gave me.’

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchurch: FAFSWAG Vogue

WORD Christchurch: FAFSWAG Vogue

Before you read this – or in fact instead of reading this – go and experience the FAFSWAG Vogue interactive dance video: https://fafswagvogue.com/  Turn the volume up and soak it in.

FAFSWAG is a queer Pasifika arts collective based in South Auckland whose name derives from fa’afafine and swagger. ‘We celebrate queer brown bodies, contemporary Pacific arts and cultural restoration.; They also perform phenomenal Voguing, a highly theatrical dance style special to the queer and drag communities and rooted in the fight against racism and homophobia. I attended the Vogue workshop run by Manu Vaeatangitau and Pati Solomona Tyrell of FAFSWAG, and Manu explained that Voguing originated amongst queer black prison inmates in the US, then expanded out to Harlem, and thence to the rest of the world.

The workshop was held at the Aranui Wainoni Community Centre. I was a bit nervous showing up by myself but was quickly made very welcome. The festival blurb said the workshop was for beginners, and I told Tusiata Avia – who had made the event happen as part of her guest programmer role for WORD 2018 – that I hoped it was okay that I had turned up. Yes Elizabeth, she said gravely, you are allowed to be here.

Being allowed to be present, to take up space, and to be who you are in the body that you have had been a major theme of the previous night’s event, Comfortable In Your Skin, also programmed by Tusiata and also featuring Manu and Pati. Conversation had been about being queer, being brown, and being bullied for it. Sonya Renee Taylor had talked about radical self love: not just self-confidence, which is inward-looking and fleeting, but aroha, which is connective and spills outwards. Manu and Pati referenced it specifically in the workshop and it felt like we were working our way towards it together.

There were 20 or so of us attending; a mix of ages, body sizes and shapes, ethnicities and gender expressions. Manu and Pati gave us an introduction to the elements of Vogue Femme: hands, catwalk, duckwalk, floor work, and spins & dips. Hands and catwalking were my favourite – duckwalking is extremely hard on the thighs and dips are a right bugger on the knees. But there was a wonderful energy in the room – we were all giving it our best shot and there was heaps of laughter and applause for everyone.

That room in the Aranui Wainoni Community Centre felt like a safe space where all kinds of bodies were welcome. The previous Centre was destroyed in the earthquakes and the current building is new. I got talking to a local woman who told me that, in the rebuilding of schools in Ōtautahi, the original shapes and contours of the land were being rediscovered. What was here before is like a thin mask, she said. And it’s cracking and falling away – the real Christchurch is emerging. It reminded me of what Pati had said at Comfortable In Your Skin: these days at their brother’s all-boys South Auckland high school being queer is no big deal, and on mufti days kids come to school in drag. Our real faces are coming through.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

 

WORD Christchuch 2018: Kā Huru Manu

My WORD Christchurch 2018 got off to a fascinating start with a session on Kā Huru Manu, the Ngāi Tahu cultural mapping project. Ngāi Tahu leaders and archivists David Higgins, Helen Brown, and Takerei Norton spoke together about how this project has developed.

Over the past ten years, the team has mapped over six thousand traditional Māori place names over the Ngāi Tahu rohe. You can see a lot of the results online at http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/. The loading screen says ‘Preparing your journey…’, which is very apt: the digital atlas contains a wealth of information about Māori place names, ara tawhito (traditional travel routes), mahinga kai (food-gathering places), pā, kāinga, urupā (burial grounds), and much more. Norton, with justifiable pride, says Kā Huru Manu is the most detailed indigenous place-name project anywhere in the world.

Kā Huru Manu also contains information about native reserves: tiny parcels of land that were set aside for Māori as part of the land sales. There were ten major land purchases in the mid-nineteenth century. Brown says that although there were no land confiscations, there was duress, coercion, and forced sales. She says that when your history and identity is embedded in the landscape, losing land means losing your culture. She showed us the map of the native reserves and noted how tiny they were when you consider that Ngāi Tahu people used to have the run of about 80% of the South Island. Kā Huru Manu is a reassertion of that mana.

Key kaupapa of this project are acknowledging sources, and creating a resource by and for Ngāi Tahu people. The team have travelled around Te Waipounamu having hui at marae up and down the island. Brown said this project is about building relationships on a foundation of trust, and it is clear that the team are held in very high regard. People are sharing important information, and trusting the archivists with long-held family papers and histories. The atlas contains not just place names but detailed information about where the information came from, stories associated with that place, and information such as what foods were traditionally gathered there. The history of the project is recorded at http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/cultural-mapping-story.

One of the challenges has been unpicking historical truth from sources that are not entirely reliable. For example, Herries Beattie was an early twentieth-century Pākehā ethnologist who published extensively on Ngāi Tahu history. He relied heavily on a map created by Māori, but did not have access to the accompanying notebooks that contained important contextual information. And so misspellings, shortenings of words and misinterpretations entered the official histories. Norton said it is their job to correct Beattie’s mistakes, just as it will be the job of future generations to correct any mistakes they are making now.

Higgins is a member of Te Pae Kōrako, which oversees the work of the Ngāi Tahu Archive. They want to make the materials they have available to their young people, in line with the whakataukī of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu: Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei (for us and our children after us). And now the technology is available to do just that. Brown says their people need to time reabsorb this learning: ‘We want to give this material back to our own people so they can own it first. There is widespread pride in and love of this project’. At the end of the session some people in the audience sang a waiata to acknowledge the importance of this work. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

WORD Christchuch 2018: Kā Huru Manu
check out the maps and find out more here: http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/.