Poet honoured for Pacific stories

posted: 8:00 pm - 21st June 2020
Tusiata Avia 670x447

(Picture caption: In the recent 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours, Tusiata Avia was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to poetry and the arts.) 

New Zealand-Samoan poet and children’s author Tusiata Avia says being a creative involved in the arts is a strange life, and maybe not everyone's idea of a successful career choice.

However, writing is her passion and she is grateful she has been able to make it her career – and a successful one at that.

In the recent 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours, Avia was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to poetry and the arts.

“Most things I achieve are in the arts community - which is relatively small in comparison to the larger public sphere in New Zealand,” Tusiata says. 

“This honour happens in a wider public space, so it's a great opportunity to draw attention to the Pacific arts - particularly for Pasifika young people who might aspire to a life in the arts.”

Although there is no guaranteed salary working in the arts, and financially it can be tough, Tusiata says a life in the arts and living your passion is hugely rewarding.

“It is an important tautua/service back to our community and our global society.”

Of Samoan, English, and Scottish heritage, Tusiata’s poetry explores Pacific and cross-cultural themes, as well as the borders between traditional and contemporary life, and between place and the self.

Tusiata has toured both nationally and internationally performing her solo show Wild Dogs Under My Skirt which premiered at the 2002 Dunedin Fringe Festival.

Seeing Wild Dogs Under My Skirt playing Off-Broadway in New York City in January is one of her many career highlights to date, she says.

“Lucky for us we made it there and back before Covid-19 hit - unfortunately, we were due to go back in May for another longer season.

“The play was also at my old high school (Aranui High School in Christchurch) last year, which felt like coming full circle for me.”   

The creative writing lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology, Tusiata says Covid-19 impacted her like everyone else as she lost work and opportunities, but it took the biggest toll on her family life.

“My mum is 86 so keeping her safe has been of prime importance.

“I've had to be very conscious of my own - and my family's - physical and mental health.

“Keeping connection with friends, family and the creative community online has been important.”

The Creative New Zealand Pacific team have been running weekly Zono on Zoom for Pacific artists, which Tusiata says has been great.

Tusiata’s published works include poetry books Fale Aiutu, Bloodclot, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, and children’s books Mele and the Fofo, and The Song.

The author has had poetry published in numerous literary journals such as Takahe, Sport, Turbine, and Trout, and in the Best New Zealand Poems series.

 With life getting back to somewhat normal post-Covid lockdown, Tusiata says she will continue her mission to tell more Pacific stories.

“I want to inspire and support our young Pacific people.”