I had been writing for a long time before my first article was published in e-Tangata nearly three years ago. There was an unfinished novel, a few short stories and some scraps of poetry. But mainly, I was writing status updates on Facebook. I was exploring topics to do with language, identity, and finding my place in New Zealand after nearly ten years living overseas.
When a friend, Stacey Morrison, asked if I’d considered publishing some of my writing, I said no. She quickly linked me up with Gary Wilson and Tapu Misa, and within a week my first article was published.
Since then, more than 20 of my essays have featured in e-Tangata. I’ve written about everything from education policy to reconnecting with my father. I’ve written about my journey with te reo, politics and culture, family and belonging. I’ve even written stories about knitting.
Looking back, it isn’t entirely true to say that I’d never considered publishing my work. I’d dreamed of becoming a published writer most of my life. I just didn’t think it was possible. Partly, that had to do with self-confidence. I didn’t rate myself as a writer.
But it also had to do with the fact that I couldn’t see myself reflected in the stories that are most often shared and celebrated within the New Zealand media. I felt that my whakapapa excluded me from mainstream publishing opportunities, while at the same time, I didn’t fit perfectly into the Māori media landscape either. It was though I wasn’t Māori enough to be Māori, but not Pākehā enough to be Pākehā.
Making space to explore these, and a whole range of complex identity issues, is something that e-Tangata has done staunchly from its very first issue. The emphasis isn’t just on the ideas and the quality of the writing, but the personal stories behind the ideas. The narrative.
e-Tangata will often shine a light on a subject that is experienced by many, for example, but not widely discussed or acknowledged. Other times, writers will take an issue everyone is familiar with and examine it from a completely fresh perspective. It’s a forum to work things out, as much as it’s a platform to tell people how it is. A place for writers to reflect, and for readers to connect.
This is the reason, I believe, e-Tangata has been able to build and maintain such a solid and loyal audience over the years. Where other media outlets have had to turn off comments, e-Tangata has remained open for dialogue. Readers are able to engage in conversations in an environment that is safe, respectful, insightful and constructive. As far as online forums go, this is unique.
It’s hard to summarise in a few words the impact that e-Tangata has had on my writing career. For a start, there was no writing career to speak of before e-Tangata. Now I’m writing and publishing almost weekly. Last year, I won an NZSA mentorship, and this year I was awarded a Michael King Writers’ residency. By the end of the year, I will have a completed manuscript of essays ready for publication. I would never have dreamed these achievements possible a few years ago.
But there are two other things that are even more significant. The first is the knowledge that there is a place for stories like mine to be heard. I no longer feel as though I have to be either Pākehā or Māori to make it through some elusive and narrow publishing gate in New Zealand. Instead, e-Tangata provides a way for writers like myself to take a place on the stage, without having to sacrifice the authenticity of who we are or who we represent.
The second thing is mentorship. Finding my voice as a writer wasn’t something that happened overnight. It required coaching and reassurance, and a fair amount of challenging, too. I remember clearly the first couple articles I ever published. There was an awful tension between wanting to be read and being afraid of how my words might be interpreted. In those moments of doubt, there was no-one better experienced or more understanding than Tapu to talk things through with.
Gary, on the other hand, has pushed me to focus on the craft of writing. Not as some kind of elite or formulaic skill set, but as an exercise in good old-fashioned storytelling. Gary doesn’t believe in over-complicating things with flash words. He reckons a good story stands up on its own. He calls this type of writing “classy,” and is the highest compliment.
Together, Gary and Tapu have supported and challenged me in equal measure. This, in turn, has helped grow my confidence. Being published in e-Tangata has given me a start as a writer that I know I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. It’s come in the middle of my life, when I least expected it – when the best I could hope for was an audience of generous friends on Facebook.
I know that with the right support and partners, e-Tangata will continue to grow and thrive. I hope this is the case, because without it, the New Zealand media landscape will miss out on the voices of a large, diverse and talented pool of Māori and Pasifika writers and storytellers. Some of those writers we already know and celebrate. Others are still waiting to be discovered.
This post is written in support of e-tangata’s recent appeal for community funding.