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Kiwi Fulbright scholar excavates Pacific stories

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Kiwi Fulbright scholar excavates Pacific stories

August 13th 2014

Leilani Tamu launches her first poetry collection: The Art of Excavation
Kiwi Fulbright scholar, former diplomat, Pacific historian, mother and poet, Leilani Tamu launched her first poetry collection, The Art of Excavation, to literary acclaim, at an event at Fale Pasifika, the University of Auckland’s Pacific Studies centre, last night.

Through a series of cleverly articulated poems, The Art of Excavation retells Pacific stories of the past from the perspective of a young Pacific woman living in the present.

The honest prose delves into the complex and multifaceted nature of the Pacific as it is today and by turns is a fierce, political, tender, insightful, contemplative and intimate excavation of the region.

At the young age of 31, Leliani Tamu represents an emerging generation of New Zealand-born Pacific leaders who are achieving extraordinary things.
With a background spanning the diverse fields of history, diplomacy and poetry, Tamu provides readers with fresh and engaging insights regarding issues of social and cultural relevance to New Zealand and the wider Pacific region.

Inspired by the discovery of a box of old family photographs from nineteenth century Samoa, Leilani Tamu says the ideas for The Art of Excavation started to unfold as she was completing a Masters in Pacific History at the University of Auckland.

“In that box of old photographs were so many untold stories, memories and history – I wanted to find a way of excavating them that was honest and true to my values as a Pacific scholar,” says Leilani.

“Poetry provided me with the opportunity to do that.”
Well-known, award-winning poet and teacher, Siobhan Harvey, says The Art of Excavation is a noteworthy first collection of poetry by a significant new author.
The Art of Excavation is an exciting project by a voice much needed in the New Zealand literary landscape — Pasifika, female, informed academically and culturally, with an eye capable of sighting and microscoping wide-ranging, important historical and social affairs,” says Siobhan.

Praise for the Art of Excavation also comes from award-winning poet, painter and editor, Gregory O’Brien, says verbally, Leilani’s work is taut as a wire, yet filled with the relaxed and often informal music of spoken language.
“Alongside their strong visual register, the poems are characterised by a lively and enlivening music, and a sense of intellectual and emotional adventure,” says Gregory.

About the author:
At 31 years old, Leilani Tamu is a poet, social commentator, Pacific historian and former New Zealand diplomat. In 2013 she was the Fulbright / Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai’i in Mānoa. Prior to this, Leilani worked as a freelance writer with regular contributions appearing in Auckland’s Metro Magazine that tackled issues as diverse as racism, unemployment, property investment, cyber bullying, youth suicide and motherhood.

Born in New Zealand to a Samoan mother and Pakeha father, Leilani’s Pacific heritage has played an important role in shaping both her creative and professional career. After completing a Master of Arts in Pacific History at the University of Auckland in 2005, where she researched the history of the port-town of Apia, Samoa, Leilani joined the Foreign Service which led to postings in Australia and the Kingdom of Tonga.

Through her ability to draw on a range of experiences, Leilani brings a fresh perspective to the fore when tackling issues of social and cultural relevance to New Zealand and the wider region. As a writer, who is passionate about her Pacific heritage and committed to furthering her own understanding of the complex issues facing the region, Leilani’s voice makes an important contribution to New Zealand-Pacific literature. Her work has appeared in a range of anthologies, including Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English; Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1; Landfall; JAAM; Blackmail Press; Hawai’i Review; Griffith Review and Snorkel. A selection of her non-fiction writing will feature in Tell You What: Great NZ Nonfiction 2014 (AUP, forthcoming November 2014).


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