By PHIL FITZPATRICK – posted on PNG Attitude Blog
Tingting Bilong Mi: 2020 Essay Competition edited by Michael Dom & Ed Brumby, Pukpuk Publications (May 2022), 195 pages. $1.00. Kindle edition available from Amazon Books
TUMBY BAY – I’ve got a confession to make, I like reading Papua New Guinean literature.
I’ve probably learnt more about the country and its people through reading its writers than I have living and working there.
I guess, more than anything else, mine is a visceral rather than an intellectual reaction and, as a consequence, it’s hard to explain.
So, with that in mind, what can I say about this unique collection of 19 essays, Tingting Bilong Mi?
First of all, it has to be understood that the writers are young people, some still students.
This is important to note because, no matter how smart they are, they still lack life experience.
With some exceptions in literature, life experience is an important asset for any writer. With it comes both wisdom and sharpened skills.
Most of the essays in Tingting Bilong Mi reflect this aspect. What many of the authors have done is fall back on their educational experience for want of anything better.
The result has been a preference for essays very much in the form of a formal piece of work for school, including the obligatory list of references.
This is okay because the competition from which these works are drawn allowed for academic as well as literary writing. I know which I prefer.
In my experience interesting school essays are rare because, among other things, they don’t reflect the writer’s opinions but those of their teachers and the text books which have to be read.
Unless wanting to highlight a particular source, more experienced writers can bury their influences and make their narrative run smoothly. The winning entries published in this book are a good example of how this has been done.
It’s nice to know that a lot of the writers researched PNG Attitude and in their essays cited what they had found there.
But there was a serious lack of breadth of other sources except for data about literacy in PNG (which is around 60% and falling) sourced from a 2015 report by the Education Department.
As for the rest, the research appeared to have been found in more obscure sources on the internet. I wonder what this means. Does it point to lazy research, or does it mean the resources are just not there?
A few of the more adventurous writers used some unusual and quixotic sources, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was good to see.
Some common themes running through the essays were that literature is an indicator of PNG’s development, that there is a need to create a culture of reading, that traditional culture and history must be preserved, that PNG-based narratives are more relatable than others, and that home-grown literature is important to PNG’s national identity and prestige.
This is all good stuff and, despite my earlier observations, the writers should be congratulated for their acuity in understanding these very practical benefits that ensue from literature.
Most, if not all, of the writers represented in the collection show great promise and I’m sure a few of them, given the right circumstances and encouragement, will go on to greater things.
However, whether that encouragement will be available to them is a critical matter.
We saw many lights shine brightly during the years of the Crocodile Prize only to fade away and never be seen since. They were all heartfelt losses.
Let’s hope the generation represented by this collection has better luck.
With editors like Michael Dom and Ed Brumby, there is still good reason to hope.