Monday, 7 November 2011

Indigenous publishers on my mind...

Tomorrow I'm going to give a guest lecture at the University of Guelph, a big uni about an hour away from Toronto, to their first year English students... I'm talking about Indigenous literature but will focus on Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, a fabulously fabulous Anishinaabeg poet, publisher and genius :)

One of the things Kateri did a few years ago (back in 1993 actually) was that she set up Kegedonce Press, a publishing company which would be under the control of, and explicitly focussed on, Aboriginal and global Indigenous writers & communities...

As I've prepared my lecture for tomorrow it has been so good to read things she has said about publishing and the significance of Indigenous publishing. As a poet (and new Maori poets struggle to get published at the moment) and as a reader of work that finds it difficult to get to publication, I know all about the intellectual but also the cultural significance of the work these companies do.

Last year when the NZ Book Awards didn't make a prize to the best book in the Maori language because there wasn't one that was eligible, a lot of people turned to Huia Publishers and complained that they clearly weren't doing a good enough job... like, excuse me? These Indigenous publishers work around the clock to get Indigenous books out there, despite often not having access to the boys club distribution networks, despite distributors and bookstores often not understanding their books, and despite ... and people turn to them when there's not a Maori language book? Um, people. Try directing some of the frustration at the rest of the publishers in NZ, who continue to keep the range of available Maori texts (in either language) predictable and narrow.

Congratulations to Tina Makereti whose remarkable first collection Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa was just announced as the fiction winner of the 2011 Kupu Ora Maori Book Awards... but congratulations also to Huia who published this book in the first place. Congratulations to Daren Kamali whose amazing Tales, Poems and Songs from the Underworld (in Fijian as well English) is being lapped up all around the Pacific... but congratulations also to Anahera Press who published this book in the first place.

Sure, I have days when I'm critical of NZ publishing practice, including Maori publishing practice, and I don't think the way to love something is to refuse to regognise its imperfections and uneven strengths. But at the end of the day, the world is a richer a better place for the existence of these books - and the hundreds of other Indigenous books like them - which wouldn't otherwise have seen the light of day.

So tonite I'm thinking of Huia, Jukurrpa, Anahera, Ala Press, Kegedonce, Theytus and all the rest. Thank you for making our world a better, more interesting, and more Indigenous place. 

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