Me, A Papua New Guinean Writer

: an interview with Dr Kirsten McGavin





Hibiscus Three: Can you remember the moment you knew that you would pursue and share your creative writing with others?

Dr Kirsten McGavin: I was in grade one when I knew I wanted to be a writer – my first story was about anthropomorphic animals vis-à-vis The Wind in the Willows or The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher. From there, I entered local competitions for prose and poetry and won awards – which often came in the form of books, which I loved and still have.

HT: What do you write about, and what are the common reactions you’ve had from readers?

KM: Over the years, I’ve written about so many topics but whether it’s my creative or anthropological writing, my themes tend to include: identity, power, representation, belonging, home and justice. One of my favourite reactions is when people say my writing is easy to read. I especially love that for my academic work because I feel like so many academics write in such a convoluted way so as to impress each other rather than actually have a conversation and engage the reader with their ideas. I love that my writing is accessible.


HT: What piece of writing of yours are you most proud of, and can you briefly outline its message and its significance to you?

KM: In 2014 I wrote an anthropological essay called, “Being Nesian: Pacific Islander Identity in Australia”. I’m so proud of this piece because, of all my publications, this is the one that’s actually gotten me fan mail – which is so cool! – and at conferences and seminars, so many people come up to me and say how much they identified with what I wrote. The essay talks about what it’s like in the diaspora, with so many people of various Islander backgrounds grouping together in light of our shared heritage and sense of belonging. The fact that so many people find meaning and value in what I have written is heart-warming and reinforces the power of representation.

HT: If you had to sustain your creativity with only 3 books for the rest of your life, what would these books be?

KM: 1. Black White Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity by Lise Funderburg. I’ve read this book cover to cover more than once. It was one of the first books about mixed race people actually written by a mixed race person and amplifying the stories of mixed race people. Even though it’s about biracial Americans (and I’m not an American), it was one of the first books I ever read that really made me feel seen.

2. The Erstwhile Savage by Ligeremaluoga. This autobiography is touted as being the first book written by a South Pacific Islander – and he’s from the New Guinea Islands which makes me super proud.

3. The Star Wars original trilogy by George Lucas. Okay, I know it’s not a book but it’s one of the most influential creative pieces in my life and no matter the conversation, I can always find a way to bring things back to Star Wars. Plus, there was a really cool period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi where I thought that Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker were mixed race because their dad was played by James Earl Jones. (I was super confused – and disappointed – to later learn he was only the voice of Darth Vader and not the actor behind the mask!)

HT: What is the one thing you can’t do without when going to write?

KM: I write on my computer but sometimes I find this can limit creativity. For this reason, I always have a notebook by my side to plot out stories or essays or explore themes – sometimes this involves drawing pictures or maps or graphs. For many of my creative pieces, I also have allocated a theme song or a set of songs – usually sweet 80s jams – that I listen to when I’m not writing. I have found this keeps the subconscious working on the story when I’m not actually writing.

HT: Encouraging a thriving literary culture of writers and readers in Papua New Guinea – what does this look like to you?

KM :To me, it’s about supporting each other at every stage – in reading, writing, publishing, presenting and engaging with our stories. We have an awesome chance right now to step up and make it happen. It can be hard to push past “gatekeepers” in some big publishing houses who might not understand or see value in our stories, but if you do get a culturally ignorant response from them – you just have to keep going and stay true to yourself and your work, and find a better publisher. And there’s no reason why you can’t self-publish!

I’d really like to see us have an annual literary festival, with book stalls, workshops, awards, seminars, guest speakers etc. Make these opportunities for ourselves.


HT: What is the one thing you haven’t written yet that you’d like to eventually get to, and what inspires you to keep this as a goal?

KM: There are so many dream projects I have in the works, it’s hard to narrow it down. But my favourite is a series of speculative fiction novels starring Papua New Guineans and other Indigenous Pacific characters. I just keep thinking of how important it is to be able to see yourself reflected in the books you read and the movies you watch.

HT: Where can readers find your writing?

KM: Most of my stuff is scattered through magazines or is in academic journals that are hard to access unless you have a subscription. However, here’s a link to one of my anthropology articles that’s totally free and open access:


Link here: http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/n4043/html/ch06.xhtml?referer=&page=8


Here’s a link to buy my book (sorry, I don’t control the prices!): https://www.routledge.com/Mixed-Race-Identities-in-Australia-New-Zealand-and-the-Pacific-Islands/Fozdar-McGavin/p/book/9780367876715


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Thank you Dr. McGavin sharing your thoughts with us, and the links to read your anthropological and creative work!


Follow and tag @hibiscus.three using #MeAPapuaNewGuineanWriter on Instagram if you have a blog or writing you would like us to read.

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