I was an English teacher in Samoa for several years. The challenge was how to help nurture a love for reading in my students – when usually all we had were books written by white people, set in white people places, in a world where white people did all the thinking/talking/acting/feeling, and the rest of us were either the villain, the help, or absent. That was the same classroom and library that I had grown up in, an avid reader but always looking, hoping to find stories with ‘me’ in them.
I watched my students dutifully make their way through the approved literature, classic stories which were beautifully written and allowed them the opportunity to study ‘the human condition’ via a white person’s lens. Yes, they were reading about ‘universal’ themes and issues, but I asked myself, did it always have to be so damn boring? And just for once, couldn’t we read a story about the ‘human condition’ – where people like us got to be the universal ‘humans’?
I’ll always remember the day I read excerpts to them from Samoan author Sia Figiel’s book, ‘Girl in the Moon Circle’. It was like I had flicked on a light switch. Lit a fire in the room. There was rapt attention, uproarious laughter, taut silence, outraged mutterings of ‘Oi sole, le mafaufau!’ and unified headshakes of sympathy for the wronged characters. The class discussion afterwards was the most vibrant and lively I’d ever seen in my time as a teacher thus far. Even the most reluctant of readers was excited to read more.
The student writing that came from those discussions was thought-provoking and powerful, as they engaged with a range of universal themes and questions – through a lens that positioned them as the center. And not the marginalised other. Everyone should have that experience.
Each of the stories in Afakasi Woman was written with that day in mind. I come from an oral storytelling tradition and so, many of the stories in this collection are best read aloud. Because communal laughter, grief and anger is often the best way to navigate difficult things, through sharing them.
In these stories you will find our humor and the barbed wit of our sarcasm. Lots of funny, even when dealing with racism and discrimination. Because sometimes, laughter is all we have to counter it. There’s sadness and trauma, loss and struggle. The devastation of a tsunami. Young people coping with sexual harassment, pregnancy, abuse and messed-up families (because yes, we have those too!) Stories about the weight of societal expectations, culture that can be both a heavy burden on your shoulders and also an ie toga “to parry stones…to keep you warm”*. Stories of identity, class and colorism.
Stories inspired by my students and my own teenagers. Stories written for the girl I used to be and the woman that I am now.
(* “Be Nobody’s Darling”, Alice Walker.)
Since its release in 2019, ‘Afakasi Woman’ has found it’s way into many libraries and classrooms. It won a NZ Storyline Notable Book Award and was also shortlisted for the NZ Young Adult Fiction Book Awards. I am hopeful that these stories are being read and enjoyed, especially by those I wrote it for.
Buy the paperback from One Tree House Press HERE
Buy the ebook from my bookstore HERE