Māori playwrights awarded prestigious residency

By Jessica Tyson

Māori writers Aroha Awarau and Albert Belz have been awarded a residency from the Michael King Writers Centre Trust.

They are two of 20 recipients out of a record-breaking 125 applicants, totalling 487 individual applications across all of the categories available.

Belz is a Māori playwright and former Shortland Street actor of Ngāti Porou and Ngāpuhi descent. He was awarded the prestigious University of Auckland/MKWC Residency.

Awarau, of Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Porou, has more than 10 years of experience in entertainment journalism and five as a playwright. He received the emerging writers' award.

"I think its such an honour. This year there are two playwrights out of 20 and we're both Māori and I think that goes to show that there are Māori voices out there in playwrighting," says Awarau.

Their residency will begin in 2020 at Devonport's Signalman's House in Auckland and will include a weekly income of $1600.

The 20 cohort of writers will work upon an exciting and eclectic range of topics to include: two memoirs; seven novels and short story collections; three children's books; two theatre plays; two collections of poetry, and four non-fiction projects.

During his stay, Belz says he will work on a piece about his grandson.

"He's seven years old and he's autistic and I've always wondered what his world looks like from his point of view."

Awarau says he will work on a play about a Māori man who becomes a Southern Belle. 

"I really wanted to challenge what Māori characters can be. And also because Southern belle is a woman and it's about a Māori male so it does actually challenge what Māori characters can be but also questions sexuality and sexual identity as well. So I think it's an important piece to have in our framework of Māori theatre."

Belz and Awarau both agree that more Māori should get involved in playwrighting.

"Come along is the message for other writers. Theatre is such a good launching pad for screen work as well or for web series. Cut your teeth in theatre, do an amazing job or get it wrong, whatever. But when it goes to screen more people will be watching it," says Belz.

Aroha Awarau and Albert Belz. Source: File

Increase in Māori applicants

A total of eight out of the 20 recipients identified as being of Māori or Pacific descent. This year the Trust received an increase in the number of emerging writers who applied says the director of the Michael King Writers Centre, Jan McEwen. 

"Although we specifically have Māori residencies, we also have a lot of Māori writers also applying for other residencies so we've actually ended up with more Māori writers than normal. So I think that's just an increase because there's more Māori writers who are getting published."

Chair of the Board of Trustees Melanie Laville-Moore says the lift validates previous decisions to extend the number of shorter residencies made available.

“But equally pleasing has been the breadth and quality of writers that have come forward. There is no doubt that 2020 will be an exciting and seminal year at Signalman's House.”

Recipients

The prestigious University of Auckland/MKWC Residencies were awarded to Belz, Pip Adam, Tom Doig and Penelope Jackson.

 Established writers to receive residencies include current Poet Laureate David Eggleton, Hera Lindsay Bird, Jeff Evans, Rachael King, Bren MacDibble, Tina Makereti, Joshua Pomare, Max Rashbrooke and Tania Roxborogh.

 Emerging writers awarded a residency are Awarau, Jane Arthur, Rose Carlyle, Megan Dunn, Amy McDaid, Tru Paraha and Maria Samuela.