Essay contest delivered some useful lessons

By KEITH JACKSON – 23 March 2021, Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude

NOOSA – The inaugural Tingting Bilong Mi [My Opinion] essay contest for Papua New Guinean writers under the age of 35 resulted in some great writing.

The contest was the brainchild of Dr Michael Dom and the ‘Mastermind’ team and the topic asked the young writers to expound on the subject of whether the PNG government should set its mind to encouraging and supporting home-grown literature.

As the early entries began to arrive, Michael Dom was surprised to find that his niece, Illeana Maldowa Dom, had submitted an essay.

He immediately stepped down from judging and asked Patrick (Big Pat) Levo of the Post-Courier and me to keep an eye on proceedings.

One of our tasks was to step in and help break the tie between the two top entrants – Illeana and Mathisa Turi.

When all eight judges (including Big Pat and me) voted, it turned out that Illeana had won the competition and that Michael’s decision to stand aside was both ethical and astute.

Both top essays presented readers with some striking moments of prose and make compelling arguments for more top level attention on the more effective development of a home-grown literature.

It’s not that PNG lacks writers: they are plentiful and they are talented.

What is required is more editors and publishers and more funds for printing and logistical support to get the books to libraries and schools and so have them read and the writers rewarded.

Every good writer deserves a good editor and this is the case overseas as it is in PNG, where written English can get wobbly and in need of straightening out.

Most writers show that they can use search engines but there seems to be a reluctance to check facts and a particular resistance to not seeking out a Dictionary (for spelling) or a Thesaurus (for finding that exactly right word).

In judging I noticed some serious flaws of presentation. Unnecessary repetition can drive readers crazy. Confusing time sequencing can leave readers, well, confused. And unlike university essays, most creative writing does not require footnotes.

In other creative writing (but not in this essay competition) I’ve observed other problems like an author forgetting which character said what and even changing character’s names mid-stream.

These flaws depict authors who do not revise their writing sufficiently or at all. All significant creative work requires reflection and thorough revision.

Some of the competitive essays I read seemed to be streams of consciousness, where ideas tumble out as the writer thinks, ending up on the page a disorderly mass of disorganised thoughts.

Most good writing emerges from some sort of a plan, however simple, and all essays should be written to a plan) and of reflection.

What might a simple plan look like? (1) What do I want to say (answer in one sentence)? (2) How do I want to start (bear in mind you want to engage the reader from the get-go)? (3) What will get me there?

Here’s my rough go at a plan for an essay on Covid-19.

  • I want to persuade readers that Covid is real and dangerous.
  • I want to start with a crazy example of bad thinking about Covid.
  • I want to list all the bad thinking and show how it is wrong in a way people will understand.

For experienced writers, this plan may never be written on paper but formed in the mind. However, for the novice, planning on paper always helps.

Papua New Guinean writers can improve their essays by reading some of PNG’s best contemporary essayists. Some good examples are seen in the work of Francis Nii, Sil Bolkin, Daniel Kumbon, Alexander Nara, Hazel Kutkue and Michael Kabuni. All are represented in PNG Attitude and can be found easily by searching for ‘PNG Attitude” + “{name of writer}”.

Our memorial collection of the writing of Francis Nii is available as a free download from this site. You can link to it here.

Daniel Kumbon’s 2016 book, ‘I Can See My Country More Clearly Now’, is a wonderful collection of essays of a Papua New Guinean traveller abroad. Also available as a free download here.

Finally, my thanks and to Michael and the Masterminds (not a London boy band) and all the others who worked so hard to bring this contest to finality. It was a great and worthwhile project.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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