Thursday, April 13, 2017

Papua's publishing revolution


Sometimes New Zealand publishers complain to me. The book market here is so small, this or that publisher says. Grants are inadequate. Bookshops are closing, as internet imperialists like Amazon expand.

All of these complaints are justified. The life of a Kiwi book publisher can be a difficult one. But if our publishers need some perspective on their plight, and some inspiration, then they ought to read Phil Fitzpatrick's remarkable article 'The Lost Creative Writing Generation of Papua New Guinea', which was published late last year on the popular PNG Attitude blog.

Fitzpatrick begins his article by recalling the beginnings of written Papuan literature in the 1960s and '70s. As agitation for independence from Australia grew, the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby became a base for a generation of young writers. They worked in English and Tok Pisin, rather than one of their nation's eight hundred or so indigenous languages, and adapted traditional oral storytelling techniques to the page. Ulli Beier, a German Jewish scholar who had taught in Nigeria before fleeing the Biafran conflict, got a job teaching Creative Writing at the University of Papua New Guinea, and began to edit and publish anthologies of the nation's emerging literature. A Papua Pocket Poets series was successful, and the journals Kovave and Papua New Guinea Writing were established.

In the 1980s, though, Papuan writers struggled for support. Papua New Guinea had won independence, but successive governments struggled to find funds for roads and schools, let alone literary grants and Creative Writing courses. Libraries decayed and closed, local publishers folded, and the Australian and New Zealand literary worlds remained steadfastly uninterested in Papuan texts.

Over the last decade the internet and cheaper publishing have revived Papuan literature. After Digicel raised its towers across Papua New Guinea, bringing the worldwide web to the territory beyond Port Moresby, writers began to self-publish on blogs and social media. When Phil Fitzpatrick and his friend Keith Jackson established an annual Crocodile Prize for Papuan creative writing in 2011, they were deluged with material. Fitzpatrick pays tribute to Martyn Namorong, the 'educated savage' in the photograph above this post. Namorong 'bombarded' Fitzpatrick and Jackson with 'short and incendiary essays' on Papuan society and politics. Namorong grew up in a logging camp in Papua New Guinea's western province, and learned English by listening to shortwave broadcasts from Radio Australia.
Namorong has made himself an enemy of the government of Peter O'Neil, a businessman who was elected on an anti-corruption platform but has since been fighting a warrant for his arrest on charges of corruption. Last year police opened fire on students of the Papua New Guinea University, after they marched to demand that O'Neil address the charges against him. Seventeen students were wounded.

Taking advantage of cheap Chinese publishers, Fitzpatrick and Jackson began to produce anthologies of new Papuan writing, and then to issue books by individual authors.

By the time Fitzpatrick and Jackson had established Pukpuk Publications, some Papuan writers had begun to bring out their own books. Baka Bina, for instance, used Amazon's CreateSapce to self-publish a novel called A Man of Calibre, which describes 'two torrid days during a family dispute in an Eastern Highlands village'.

Apart from Rapa Nui and the Philippines, no Pacific society developed its own script and written literature before contact with Europe. There has been a tendency for scholars to contrast the oral traditions of the Pacific with the written traditions of the West, and to suggest that the two are profoundly different, and perhaps incompatible. But the alacrity with which Papuan writers have adapted an indigenous storytelling tradition to new technology and new publishing opportunities shows that there need be no dichotomy between oral and written literatures.

The Papuan literary movement of the 1970s stalled partly because of a lack of support from the country's wealthy southern neighbours. We shouldn't let a new Papuan generation suffer the same neglect. I'm ordering some books from Pukpuk Publications.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

https://medium.com/namorong-report

12:11 pm  
Blogger Ann Lily said...

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7:23 pm  
Blogger Baka Bina said...

Scott
I thank you for making mention of me and my book, Man of Calibre. If you want to download my publications, you can do so on Amazon Kindle e-books. I make it my theme to capture stories and write about events as they happened to me as I was growing up in my rural village in the 1960's and 70's.
Let me explain that I am not using Pukpuk Publications to publish my books, rather I am doing it myself direct with CreateSpace. Ed Brumby from Melbourne is giving me and Marlene Dee Potoura from Lae, editorial assistance through email and the occassional telephone conversations.
I have four other titles apart from MAN OF CALIBRE (novellla) which are lost to the fanfare of Pukpuk Publications. These titles don't get mentioned any more in other chatters. The published works are (1) HAFFIES ARE MADE THEY ARE NOT BORN, a short story; (2) CURSE OF THE LAMISI, another short story; (3) SWEET GARAIINA APO, my second novella; and (4) ANTICS OF ALONAA VOLUME ONE, this is an anthology of six short stories.
After I was given the opportunity to publish a short story ZYMUR published by Oxfords University Press in 1993, they rejected the manuscript Man of Calibre and Operesin Kisim Bek Lombo (OKBL), the latter my take on the Sandline saga in PNG.
I have since reworked OKBL to a novella of 60 000 words that I want to again publish this year along with my other manuscript, A Farmer Buys a Wife (AFBaW). I hope and will appreciate if you will get to read them.
You can also follow on our Crocodile Prize and Crocodile Prize Inc facebook pages. I do post on the two accounts and will duplicate this to PNG Attitude.
thank you once again
Baka Bina on bbinadth@gmail.com

9:28 am  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Many thanks for your message Baka. I am going to read your novel and the work that PukPuk Publications is releasing, and I hope that I will be able to help spread the word about the Papuan literary scene here in New Zealand.

Sincerely,
Scott Hamilton

6:03 pm  
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1:37 am  

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