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Paula Morris – our country’s stories

February 5, 2015

Several years ago now, Paula Morris did an interview on being a New Zealander outside of New Zealand. Some of the points she made then still make for interesting discussion now:

On the topic of being Maori, Paula commented: “As one of my cousins says, being Maori is about kinship, not about the colour of your skin. It’s a question of heritage, of inheritance….” (p.64)

“To me, being Maori is about embracing your cultural inheritance and being connected. Someone has said to me that they thought much of my writing was about race and nationhood, and in that sense very profoundly New Zealand. It’s always really strange when someone defines your work for you, but I guess that is a very important current in my writing. I’m interested in how New Zealand became a country and how it is continually changing and becoming a different place… I believe who you are is formed, to a large extent, by the place where you grow up.” (p.71)

Paula has fielded criticism for using international settings in her writing. On this note, she commented: “I can imagine there is a certain school of thought that believes New Zealand authors who set books in other countries want to commodify our literature, sell in countries other than New Zealand and create a viable career for themselves, instead of helping construct a national literature. I think this happens with young and small countries, or perhaps countries in the process of building a post-colonial identity and writing their own histories. I read an interview with a Mexican writer who was asked, ‘If you’re not setting your books in Mexico, are you really a Mexican writer?’
I think anyone who’s been under the colonial thumb at some point, where people are more conscious of having their own history, it becomes an issue. There isn’t the same pressure for an American or English writer – if you’re an English writer you can set your novel in Russia and no one will say a thing. Certainly we don’t put the same heavy burden on our pop stars, and if a New Zealand athlete went to train in America and did really well, New Zealanders would be delighted. With literature it’s a little different, because we’re telling our country’s stories. But I think my only real responsibility is to avoid stereotypes, and I certainly feel a personal responsibility to make my books entertaining.” (pp.68-69)

Ref: ‘Paula Morris’ pp.61-71, Jan Morgan (2008) Speaking for themselves: Ex-pats have their say. Cape Catley Ltd: Auckland

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