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Poet and playwright explore stigma and stereotypes

The 2019 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship will help a playwright challenge Asian stereotypes and a poet press against the silence and stigma connected to New Zealand’s history of forced adoptions.

Chloe Honum, a poet from Auckland currently living and working in Texas, will use her fellowship to write a collection of poems, based around the practice of forced adoption in New Zealand from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Chye-Ling Huang, a Chinese-Pakeha director, writer, actress and co-founder of Proudly Asian Theatre Company, will use her fellowship as an opportunity to work on two plays. Her writing is motivated by the need to see work from a perspective she couldn’t find here in New Zealand. She aims to complete the final draft of her play Black Tree Bridge – which was shown at the 2016 Auckland Arts festival RAW season, and start the first draft of a new play titled The New Temple, which will be based on queer Asian experiences.

“There are a number of Asian playwrights making incredible work, but there’s so few of us you can never be fully satisfied with the narratives you see. I’m hungry to see the kind of work that represents myself and people like me. The next logical step, if you’re not seeing the work that you believe is valuable in the world, is to just make it yourself,” says Chye-Ling.

“The work I do with my theatre company, Proudly Asian Theatre, is essentially to dismantle stereotypes by providing platforms which accurately represent Asian people in New Zealand. A natural part of that is creating works that show the nuances of the Asian experience, with the end goal of making our industry much more inclusive while also changing people’s mindsets.”

Chloe will use her fellowship to dive deeply into creating a collection of poems, tentatively titled The Girl Alone. “I have been reading everything I can find about the practice of forced adoption in New Zealand, including the 2016 Petition to Parliament to conduct an inquiry into the practice. I believe in the power of poetry to help press against silence and obfuscation, and I hope to be able to do that in these poems, in solidarity with the work of the petition.” Her research will include visiting the former sites of homes for unmarried mothers and speaking with people whose lives were directly affected by the practice. She hopes to weave the voices and experiences of the people she interviews into her poems.

Sargeson Trust Chair Dr Elizabeth Aitken-Rose says the fellowship enriches New Zealand’s literary landscape. “For over 30 years, this Fellowship has allowed New Zealand writers to focus on their craft full time and this has produced some stunning results. For example, in 2016 Diana Wichtel used her fellowship to work on Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father. This book, explores the impact of the Holocaust on her own family history, and was one of the winning titles at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand national book awards.”

The fellowship will run from April to November. This distinguished literary fellowship allows the pair to share an annual stipend of $20,000 and a four-month tenure each at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland.

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