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Calling young multi-lingual poets and writers

Poet and creative writing lecturer Dr Jo Emeney (left) and Ros Ali want to encourage young speakers of English as a second language to try poetry writing.

Writing poetry and stories can be enriching for new New Zealanders wanting to make sense of the challenge of shifting between cultures and languages, says a Massey University poetry lecturer. 

The same can sometimes be true for those who speak one language at home and another at school, or leave a part of their familial culture behind while they participate in “Kiwi culture”, says Dr Jo Emeney. She and fellow writing tutor Ros Ali are offering free community workshops in West Auckland to encourage youth from diverse backgrounds to use their creative expression.

Dr Emeney, from Massey’s School of English and Media Studies at the Auckland campus, Albany, came up with the idea of the workshops after teaching creative writing to students from diverse cultures and languages in her creative writing class. The workshops will run over two half days in September at Westgate’s new community hub and library, Te Manawa.

Dr Emeney, who is currently editing the next edition of the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, says that this year she has had a particularly high number of students whose second language is English. 

“I really enjoyed getting to know these young men and women over the weeks and hearing their perspectives on living in New Zealand, as well as their stories about life at home.” 

She also noticed the things they struggled with, and “thought hard about some of the ways I could make creative writing more accessible and enjoyable for them”.

The idea to extend an introduction to creative writing to young people outside the University arose from her work with the Young Writers Programme for the Michael King Writers Centre. She and Ms Ali, who she coordinates this programme with, were alerted to a new round of grants offered by the Mātātuhi Foundation (established by the Auckland Writers Festival) for projects that support the literary landscape of New Zealand while delivering broad community benefits. 

Their success in gaining a Mātātuhi grant for the Young Writers Programme and free use of a room at Te Manawa means they can offer 20 places at two workshops on 21 and 28 September to students aged between 15 to 25 years. Dr Emeney says her approach to teaching creative writing to students whose first language is not English or who are new to our country starts with looking at examples – often New Zealand-centred texts ­– then asking students to try writing their own piece in the same vein. 

“This can be quite useful for students who are new New Zealanders for three reasons. Firstly, they learn things about our places, people, language-use and culture. Secondly, they follow the original [text] like a model or map. It can be a safe structure. Thirdly, when they write their own pieces, they can bring in things they know from home – the places, objects, people and ways—which the rest of the class can find really interesting.”

She and Ms Ali publish an annual journal, called Signals. “We hope to present some of the attendees’ stories and poems in Signals 2019. Being a person of two cultures makes for very rich story, and we hope to learn a lot about – and from – the people who come to the two-day course.”

For more information or to register,

Workshops run from 10.30am to 1pm. Registrations close on September 7.


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