One of the great things about festivals like WORD is that you not only get to hear from your favourite writers, you sometimes also get to sit in discussion with them, to learn from them in workshops and masterclasses. The Black Marks on the White Page roundtable was a session like this, a chance to hear from the experienced contributors to the book, but also to sit in conversation with other Māori and Pasifika writers.
Co-editor of the anthology, Tina Makereti, introduced the session as a talanoa. I am going to borrow from BMOTWP contributor Jione Havea to describe talanoa: ‘For the sake of ones who do not understand the lingo, ‘talanoa’ is a word used in several (but not all) Pasifika languages; it refers to the (three in one) triad of story, telling and conversation.’ This roundtable session definitely lived up to this definition of talanoa.
First up: story. We heard from Makereti, Nic Low, Paula Morris and Victor Rodger. Each discussed their thoughts on Black Marks on the White Page and what it meant to contribute to it. Makereti talked about the process of collaborating with co-editor Witi Ihimaera, who she described as having ‘big visions.’ Morris describes the anthology as ‘subversive.’ She says of the book, and its impact ‘We’re reshaping the Pacific.’
Rodger carried on with this train of thought: ‘Spectrum is a word I use a lot of. For a lot of people it means quite a narrow thing, but for me there’s a huge spectrum [of Pasifika experience].’ Low expanded on this, explaining that what has been expected of people generationally being put in the box of ‘Maori writer’ or ‘Pasifika writer’ has been restrictive. ‘We have global perspectives. The boxes that we’ve all been put in are totally artificial.’
Low and Rodger then read excerpts from their pieces in the anthology, both captivating and amusing tales, subversive and witty.
Telling. The second part of the roundtable session consisted of three short writing exercises. Low’s was to do with the context of our writing. He described it as ‘useful for honing in on your subject matter,’ which it really was. Rodger’s exercise was plot focused, and Morris focused on characters. With these three short exercises under our belts we came out more equipped and enthusiastic to get stuck into our own writing projects.
Conversation. After working through the exercises the talanoa moved on to more open conversation, the asking of questions and the sharing of ideas. As is typical of many talanoa, the session carried on well past it’s scheduled time slot. Long may these talanoa continue, and carry on throughout our communities.
Reviewed by Gem Wilder