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Magic, migrants, sex, activism and representation

Writing about sex, human relationships and immigrant perspectives, poet Hera Lindsay Bird and fiction writer Michalia Arathimos have been awarded Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowships for 2020.

Auckland-based Hera Lindsay Bird, won the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Award for her first collection Hera Lindsay Bird. Heralded by the British poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as “one of the most arresting and original new young poets,” Bird plans to work on a book of linked short stories. She says she is ecstatic to have been awarded the residency so she can take four months off work.

“It's hard to simultaneously pay the bills and dedicate time to writing, and this will make life considerably easier. I'm really looking forward to having a dedicated and possibly haunted working space,” she says.

Bird has been described as an “instapoet” with a focus on sex, getting attention for lines such as “Bend me over like a substitute teacher & pump me full of shivering arrows” and titles including “Children Are The Orgasm Of The World” and “Keats is Dead So Fuck Me From Behind.”

She says she doesn’t actually put poetry on Instagram, but could be considered “a poet of the internet the same way that O'Hara was a poet of the telephone.”

“People will always focus on the sexual content of anything. It doesn't offend me, but it doesn't especially interest me either. I write about sex sometimes, because I'm interested in human relationships and sex is an aspect of that, and also good for a joke, but if you're going to poetry for specifically horny reasons, you've obviously never heard of the internet. Why read a sonnet when you could talk to a lonely Russian milf?”

Greek-New Zealander Michalia Arathimos is the award-winning author of the novel Aukati. She is working on a collection of short stories set in Aotearoa New Zealand including one about a Greek 1950s housewife and her Chinese friend. Other stories are about activists stripping at a golf course, accidentally broken relationships, hitchhikers, and circus performers.

“I’m thinking of the collection as a kind of kaleidoscope; a series of views into lives, times and places that might not often be represented in our literature,” says Arathimos, who will return from Melbourne for the residency.

“Auckland feels like a great place to be to write and edit this book. The city itself has a kind of multiplicitous energy, with so many intersecting stories happening at once. I’m hoping this will come out in my work,” she says.

Arathimos describes herself as an activist.

“Pākehā people in Aotearoa like to imply that they’re colour blind or that they don’t see cultural differences, as if being Pākehā isn’t a cultural position. To me being embodied is political in itself. The notion that art or literature can be separate from politics is a fallacy,” she says.

“Writing is a privileged activity, one I am able to engage in because I currently live in a stable housing situation, for example. I think the most important thing we can do is have conversations around ethnicity, culture and identity.”

The author says she loves writing because ” it makes me believe in magic.”

“Any artist has had the experience of creating something almost automatically, as though the work was given to them. This is not to say it’s not work. But it’s a kind of practiced opening, a listening. I like that,” she says.

According to the Sargeson Trust Chair Elizabeth Aitken Rose, the line-up of authors was particularly strong this year.

“The breadth and quality of applications was high. The interest shown reflects the continuing demand for opportunities such as that offered by the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship for writers to have the time and space to develop their work,” she says.

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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