A CLEAR DAWN: NEW ASIAN VOICES FROM AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND

Co-edited by Paula Morris and Alison Wong. FORMAT: Flexibind & Ebook. 352 pp. ISBN: 9781869409470. $49.99

A celebration of emerging New Zealand writers of Asian heritage has appeared, co-edited by Paula Morris and Alison Wong. The collection contains poetry, fiction and essays. Given New Zealand’s history of xenophobia with regard to things “oriental” (versus European, occidental), it is exciting to see our more recent predilection for positive discrimination in evidence here.

Auckland University Press tells us that A Clear Dawn “presents … creative talent [with] roots stretching from Indonesia to Japan, from China to the Philippines to the Indian subcontinent”, and the writers themselves “range from high school students to retirees, from recent immigrants to writers whose families have lived in New Zealand for generations.” So are the voices New Zealand voices, or Asian voices? That will be for you to decide, although I have already laid my money on New Zealand voices, and Alison Wong seemed to concur when she told Radio NZ interviewer Kathryn Ryan, “This is a journey we take together, where we discover so much about our country and our people and all of the diverse people within it.”

While Gregory Kan, Sharon Lam, Rose Lu and Chris Tse are published Aotearoan authors, some have begun their literary life in the theatre (Mustaq Missouri, Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty), and many more find themselves in print here for the first time. AUP’s press release tells us there are 75 writers in all, and that means 75 readers. Each writer has been “reading” New Zealand non-Asian society, and “reading” her or his own experiences within that. And many if not all writers will have sourced books in their local market-inspired bookshops or budget-constrained local libraries. A collection like this one highlights the need for a National Library to acquire and safeguard a comprehensive reserve of writing, histories and analysis of all overseas cultures that make up New Zealand Aotearoa in a way that is not market-driven. Only a National Library, with its stacks easily accessible, well-catalogued and correctly conserved in the right conditions, can fill this role today.

Whether it “maps a new literature of Aotearoa New Zealand” (AUP), or illuminates an already identified region, a complex terra incognita on an existing map, remains to be seen. I am looking forward to getting a copy from the local library, and diving into the “emerging” writing, exploring and revealing the cultural riches of this identified minority, and of Aotearoa.

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