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You’re not that, are you? Paula Morris

February 6, 2015

“I’m a New Zealand writer, a Maori writer. I’ve been called an expatriate writer, and a colleague asked me if I define myself as a Commonwealth writer. I could be all these things, and more, but I don’t think the discussion is terribly useful, especially when it distracts from the books themselves. Often, it seems, when people ask me what I am, it’s a negative rather than positive framing, a way of excluding or denying experience. They’re really saying, ‘You’re not that, are you?'” (p.184)

“My characters don’t spend much time thinking about their ethnic identities in the way that maybe a previous generation did. It’s not the thing that drives them. Or defines them.” (p.185)

“Witi sent me an email a while back, when I was writing biographical notes for the Penguin anthology. He talks about the proverb ‘Te torino haere whakamua, whakamuri’, which means that at the same time the spiral is going out, it’s returning. He sees the marae as the centre of his work, but at the same time he’s venturing out into historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and so on. He says it’s all about subverting the main discourse of New Zealand fiction. I really like those ideas – of an imaginative leaving and returning, and also of subverting our national literature by challenging categorisation. We should write the books we want to write, even if we lose readers, or confuse critics. I don’t want Trendy but Casual, for example, to be written out of my history as an author simply because it doesn’t meet expectations of what novels by a Maori writer, a New Zealand writer, should be.” (p.194)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) ‘Paula Morris: Interviewed by Alice Te Punga Somerville’ in Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion pp.176-196, Ed. Siobhan Harvey. Cape Catley Ltd: Auckland 2010

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