NorthTec Creative Writing tutor, Dr Briar Wood, has just returned from a trip to Ukraine, funded by Creative New Zealand, where she was invited to read at the Book Arsenal International Festival in Kyiv.
Her book, Rāwāhi, was shortlisted for the Ockham Awards in May last year and translated into Ukrainian by Krok Publishing House.
“Some Ukrainians are enthusiastic about writing from Aotearoa. There is a strong interest in the postcolonial situation of having a dominant language (Russian) and an indigenous language (Ukrainian) in which people are publishing more and more now, since glasnost, so there is a lot of interest in how writers shift between Te Reo Māori and English, Samoan and the many more languages currently circulating in Aotearoa.
“Going to Kyiv taught me that we are all able to find common ground. Having someone come from a different perspective really makes you think a lot about where you’re from. I think multilingualism is a wonderful thing because you actually have to think about what someone’s point of view in that language would be.”
Briar says that she has always had a passion for words, for as long as she can remember. “I was born in King Country in Taumarunui and grew up in the Waikato and South Auckland. Te Reo has always been with me, I have this bilingual consciousness. I haven’t used Te Reo fluently very much but I am always conscious of it.
“I’ve always had a fascination with words and where they can take you – the journey they take you on and how they expand over a lifetime, like finding different facets of meaning in different words, the etymologies and word histories.”
Briar has been a teacher for the best part of 40 years. She has taught at the University of Auckland and London Metropolitan University, and has been with NorthTec for five years and says the best part about working here is being in Te Tai Tokerau.
“I love being in an environment where Māoritanga and Te Reo are a vital part of everyday life. ‘Noho tata, haere tawhiti / Stay close, go far’ is a personal motto for me as well as NorthTec’s slogan, so I am inspired by a place that promotes this message in the community.
“In my class, I love finding different voices in my students and working out their different passions. It’s great to watch them come up with ideas and go with them.”
Briar says the Creative Writing programme at NorthTec is great because it is 100 per cent online. “We are able to reach people in remote areas of Northland but also around the country that wouldn’t necessarily have the means or want to travel a few times a week for classes. The course is focused on developing skills in professional writing in Aotearoa and beyond, and it does a very thorough job of this.
“It has opened up the doors in many ways. You can get so many books online now that you don’t always have to go to the library in person. It’s like the world is coming to you.”