Journal » Trout 15 » Interview With Albert Wendt: 2 [Brandy Nālani McDougall]
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Interview with Albert Wendt: 2

12 August 2002

Brandy Nālani McDougall

B: Did you have any Pacific writing teachers?

A: No. Creative writing is actually a very new thing in New Zealand. There was always that attitude that you can’t teach creative writing, which in many ways is true. You can learn from another writer or teacher of creative writing, various ways of writing, I suppose, but usually those ways are what that teacher has learned herself from the practice of writing. No matter how much knowledge you acquire about writing, if you don’t sit down and write and put it into practice, you’ll never be a writer. There’s the academic side of it, but it’s not that important. So, even though I teach creative writing, and as you know, Witi and I only teach one course of it, I think it’s suitable – students are interested in doing it. They find out through the year whether they’re going to write or not. The ones who are committed to it will continue to write whether they take another course or not. It doesn’t matter. If they don’t continue, then I suppose they aren’t meant to. But it does help I believe.

B: Where do you get the characters for your stories, your ideas for the lives they lead?

A: I don’t really plan the characters; they just come. I get the gem of an idea, maybe an image of a character, someone doing something, and I just stick with it. I don’t plan my novels. The long ones I have to plan by keeping an eye on the dates, because you don’t want that to be wrong, because then you have to rewrite the whole thing. But if it’s a short novel, and it’s only a short time span in the novel, I don’t care to plan it. I’m more interested in discovering the novel as I write it. It’s like writing a poem. You don’t know what a poem’s going to be like until you end up with it – and then you have this poem. Then you go through the process of rewriting or revising it. Then maybe through the rewriting, you may have another poem.

B: So it’s a very similar process, writing novels, to writing poems for you?

A: Yes, it’s much the same.

B: What was your experience of writing and then publishing Sons for the Return Home?

A: I haven’t thought about this too much, actually, even though I picked up English and picked it up pretty quickly and now it’s my first language. When you are writing about Samoan life and using the English Language, you have to be conscious of that. When you have Samoan characters moving about and talking, they move in a different way. How are you going to convey how that is? So, it remains a huge challenge, the language you develop to write about a culture that does not use the English language. The culture you are actually creating through the English language will not be like a representation of the culture of Samoa in the Samoan language.

Writers like me and writers like you and others make a huge contribution to the English language by just facing that problem – How do you write about Hawaiians and Samoans in the English language? Well, we develop Englishes, which hopefully are more accurate or more authentic to describing those experiences, and in doing so, we enrich the English language. Of course, this is not new. It’s been going on since we’ve learned language.

It seems a bigger thing since most of the world was turned into colonies, and quite a few belonged to the British. They used language to control those colonies. So, now it must be a preoccupation with writers in English and other coloniser languages. It must be one of our preoccupations when we write, the language itself. How do we use it to show who we are and tell our own stories even though the language, English, is not the mother tongue?

Of course, most Samoan people now are bilingual. But in Samoa, Samoan is still the main language. There is the danger that a lot of the Pacific Languages are under threat. The countries themselves don’t like it. They’re taking measures now because the language they thought was secure forever, is not.


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