Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
Today is a special and exciting day, for two awesome reasons. First, today is the day before #APIpit! #APIpit is a writing pitch event for Asian and Pacific Islander creators that takes place on the 4th of May (EST), and I am incredibly excited to see all the Asian and Pasifika writers pitching their work. All the best – we are cheering you on! Our other reason is that we have one of the co-founders for today’s #APIpit event, Manuia Heinrich, visiting us at the Pond today for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month!
When Manuia and I connected, I was giddy with excitement to see her passion and enthusiasm for advocacy and representation in publishing. (I was just as excited to learn that she and I are both living in Aotearoa!) I was honoured that I had the chance to interview her about her wonderful #APIpit event, as well as her insights about Pasifika literature, particularly with her academic background. I am delighted for you all to read the interview that I did with her today, with Manuia visiting us as a purple octopus holding a coconut cocktail!
Before we dive into my interview with Manuia, I have the privilege of sharing an excerpt of Rava, which is from the forthcoming anthology Letter to My Father (Samoa Observer), and I’ll also be sharing more information about #APIpit, which takes place today!
Excerpt: Rava by Manuia Heinrich
From the forthcoming anthology Letter to My Father (Samoa Observer), here is the beginning of Rava, my short story about a blind Polynesian girl who breaks down the patriarchal system within which she grew up.
I had stolen a life, and the day I learned about it, I lost my eyesight in punishment.
That fateful day, Papa sat us down, my brother and me, and stitched the tale of Ana’a’s curse to our existence. My home island in the Tuamotus, cursed! Our fearless warriors, the Parata, had conquered lands, stolen fame, provoked fear, and that was way too divine. Tū, god of war, and Hine, goddess of the moon, condemned Ana’a’s women to die when they brought new lives into the world. The warriors came home to dead wives, crying infants, and evil spirits roaming their lands. The conquering slowed; stopped. Ana’a’s glory faded to a worshipped myth.
Papa’s voice dimmed, flattened by the weight of our past, and I shuddered, crushed by the darkness. It clawed my eyes, brutal, ruthless. My capricious ’ere’ere eyes, they’d always worn a filter, like the mosquito screen that Papa had nailed on the door of our corrugated iron shack. But I secretly liked that whiteness. It made my island look like those other worlds where cold winters cloak the trees and smooth the sharp edges of life. My island was free of the insouciant greenness of rangi-sky, the ominous black of the threatening thunderstorm and the biting red of hibiscus in bloom. My Ana’a was soft cotton.
And it was gone.
In a blink.
Like the stolen lives.
#APIpit – A Pitch Event for API Creators
The 4th of May (EST) marks the inaugural event for #APIpit, a Twitter pitch event for Asian and Pacific Islander writers and illustrators! I highly recommend hopping on Twitter and looking through the #APIpit hashtag, where you can find and show support to all the Asian and Pacific Islander creators pitching their work.
Reminder, please do not retweet or like pitches – these are reserved for published editors and literary agents respectively! Instead, show your support by quote-retweeting or replying to the pitch tweet instead.
Good luck to everyone pitching for #APIpit! We all believe in you and we hope that those pitching can visit us at the Pond one day!
Author Interview: Manuia Heinrich
CW: Kia ora Manuia! Thank you so much for visiting The Quiet Pond for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month – it is such a pleasure to have you here today. For our friends out there who may only be visiting us for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Manuia: Ia ora na CW, thank you for having me! I’m a Chinese/French Polynesian girl born and raised in the Pacific. I live in Wellington, New Zealand, and I’m currently doing a PhD that combines two of my favorite topics: literature and languages. My research focuses on multilingual literature in French Polynesia and in the Pacific. When I’m not studying, I devour books and write stories that are inspired by my homeland and cultures. Oh, and road trips! My husband and I like hitting the road and discovering new places whenever we can.
CW: You are one of the co-founders of #APIpit, a pitch event for Asian and Pacific Islander creators. How did this pitch event come to be? And what are your goals and hopes for #APIpit?
Manuia: #Apipit is a Twitter pitch event similar to #pitmad and #dvpit, for authors and illustrators of Asian and Pacific origins to connect with professionals of the publishing industry. This was my friend Amery G. Wong’s initiative. To address the lack of API representation, she reached out to members of the API creative community and launched our organization in November 2020. Since then, we’ve interviewed authors and literary agents, facilitated critique giveaways for marginalized creators, and organized an editors’ discussion panel, a pitch workshop and a discord channel—all of it on top of the pitch event that is to take place for the first time on May 4th 2021 (find more about it on our website). It’s our ambition to help API creators and amplify their voices in an industry that has a tradition of marginalizing them, as highlighted by the annual Lee & Low reports.
CW: Your PhD delves into multilingualism in Pacific literature! How does your academic background shape the way that you engage with the stories that you read and write?
Manuia: That’s a good question! I haven’t given much thought to how my research may influence my experiences as a reader and writer, but it certainly does. As a reader, I have learned to embrace bi/multilingual books even more, as languages are such powerful means to express cultures and emotions, especially for authors writing in a global language and incorporating their native languages into the text. I’ve observed that in many cases the languages make rich cultural commentaries and participate in recreating the author’s world. As a writer, I have grown more confident in using my native languages in my manuscripts too, and I have come across inspiring linguistic strategies by accomplished Asian Pacific Islander authors along the PhD route. Bi/multilingualism is the rule, not the exception, and addressing it in literature is but another step towards acknowledging how diverse our world is.
CW: Diversity is something that more and more people are starting to become more cognizant of, particularly in publishing – but we still have a long way to go. For instance, Asian and Pacific Islanders are often lumped together, which contributes to the erasure of the distinct history, culture, and perspectives of Pasifika peoples. From your perspective and based on your academic background, what would you personally like to see more of in publishing?
Manuia: Asian and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith, and I would love to see more books written by Asian and Pacific Islanders from various communities, places, and backgrounds. I think it was Lani Wendt Young—a Samoan author who writes YA fiction—who was told a few years ago when she began querying agents that there was no readership for her books. That’s not true. There’s a readership, and that’s us, Pacific people, but also the whole world. We want, and deserve, to see characters like us in books, and to tell stories about our beautiful cultures. I also want to read about people and cultures from places I’ve never visited, about other epistemologies (ways of being and seeing the world), and it’s encouraging to see more and more diverse stories getting published. The book industry has the power to educate future generations, and to quote Stan Lee “with great power comes great responsibility.”
A Book Recommendation from Manuia!
I’d like to recommend a book by an indigenous French Polynesian author I admire, Chantal T. Spitz. Her masterpiece, Island of Shattered Dreams was published by Huia and translated from the French by Jean Anderson in 2007. If I were to describe this historical literary fiction in a few words I would call it a knife wrapped in silk—sharp political and environmental critiques expressed with a poetic, lyrical voice. It is set in the fictional islands of Rahiti and Ruahine (inspired by Tahiti and Huahine, two islands of French Polynesia) and relates the story of four generations of a same family, from the second World War to roughly the 1980s.
At the beginning, there are Teuira and Maevarua, who live a simple, contented life on their island of Ruahine. Their peace is broken when the white men come and recruit their son, Tematua, and other young Mā’ohi (indigenous French Polynesian) boys, to fight for their colonizing Motherland, France. Years later Tematua comes back to Ruahine changed, emotionally scarred, and as he resettles into his old life, he meets Emere and starts his own family. But the white men come back again, this time with more destructive intentions: to use the island as a nuclear testing site.
Island of Shattered Dreams is often said to be the first novel published by a Mā’ohi author. That’s not quite true, but this book certainly made an impact. It denounces the nuclear tests that were conducted by France in French Polynesia for thirty years (1966-1996) despite the local populations’ protests. It covers many aspects of the colonialism in the region, from how it has impacted the indigenous people’s lives and environment, to how it’s changed their perceptions of themselves. When people think about Tahiti, they picture white sandy beaches, coconut trees, and pretty vahine (women). People don’t realize that those are stereotypes produced by distorted Western narratives, or that Ao Mā’ohi (the land of the Mā’ohi) is still a colony today. Giving an insider’s perspective is essential to deconstruct wrong colonial beliefs, and Chantal T. Spitz all but delivers.
About the Author
Manuia Heinrich is a French Polynesian educator, writer, and a PhD candidate in Pacific Studies (Wellington, New Zealand). She’s passionate about languages, mythologies, and writing stories grounded in her homeland and cultures. One of her young-adult manuscripts has been selected for the Write Mentor program in 2020, and another for the We Need Diverse Books mentorship 2021. As co-founder of Apipit, a pitch event for Asian and Pacific Islander creators, she aspires to help underrepresented voices be heard in the world of publishing.