Frequently Asked Questions about My Trip to New Zealand

by Elissa Washuta

Q: You were in New Zealand? How was it?
A: Great. / Amazing. / Exceptional. / It changed my life.

Q: Vacation? Or like a book thing?
A: Officially, the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival, to which I was invited as a panelist, workshop co-leader, and reader. Unofficially, it was, in a way, a vacation, or the closest thing I’ll get to taking a vacation in New Zealand in the foreseeable future (starving artist, workaholic, unable to relax and suspend productivity, et cetera).

The question makes me realize that I may not even know what a vacation is, so I looked up the word in the dictionary. An extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling. Or: The action of leaving something one previously occupied.

The second fits. When I stepped into the Auckland airport before dawn after twelve hours on an airplane maybe eight times the size of my apartment, I began to cry. I felt the enormity of this gift, and I felt some hard block of pain dislodged by the knowledge that my body had just traveled to the other side of the world.

I can’t talk about this trip without mentioning that I had been heartbroken for weeks when I made the trip. I tucked my wounded heart into a winter jacket and took it to a place it had never seen.

After a few minutes of dreamlike wandering through the Auckland airport, I realized I didn’t have much time to get onto my connection to Christchurch. I rushed through immigration and biosecurity and, on the other side, headed for the next terminal, I found myself in the middle of a group of people in pristine black tracksuits with the Olympic rings emblazoned on their luggage. Together, we stepped into the public meeting area, and the people gathered there cheered, and I let myself absorb stray beams of their love.

And then I stepped into the late-winter dawn, waiting for the bus, looking at trees I didn’t recognize, and my whole body knew that it was making itself new.

 

Q: Sounds like a great opportunity. How’d you make that happen?
A: I don’t make anything happen—anything that works out well, anyway.

 

Q: So what kind of stuff did they have you doing?
A:  It’s impossible for me to fit all of it in a blog post, but I’ll attempt highlights. I co-lead a workshop for Ngāi Tahu writers with Ali Cobby Eckermann, Hana O’Regan, and Ivan Coyote, where we maintained a space in which we could freely talk about writing and Indigeneity.
With the other international writers, I traveled to Tuahiwi Marae to participate in a pōwhiri, a Māori welcome, where I was able to introduce myself and my family and share a song and a story.

Nic Low,  Ali Cobby Eckermann & Elissa Washuta

Nic Low, Ali Cobby Eckermann & Elissa Washuta

I participated in a powerful Sister Cities/First Nations panel with Ali and wonderful moderator Nic Low (great write-up here), which unexpectedly turned into a magical discussion about anger, violation, self-destruction, and healing.

Every day, I had a lovely, celiac-friendly breakfast at the bed & breakfast. I met writers who became family for a few days and shared special meals with good people. New friends showed me around town, walked with me, department store shopped with me, went to panels with me (and came to mine), and raved, in detail, about the plot of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (stopping at spoilers).

 

Q: Is it as beautiful as they say?

A: Yes, but not in the way they say. Not like Lord of the Rings—not Christchurch, a city leveled, loved, and rebuilt. Exquisite street art is everywhere. The tenderness for beloved buildings is evident in their reconstruction. And the people—their warmth is the most beautiful thing about Christchurch.

Christchurch cathedral being rebuilt

Christchurch cathedral being rebuilt

 

Q: It must have been a good time for you to get away, right?  I mean, how are you feeling? Better?
A: Better, yes. In Seattle, I’ve learned over and over that it’s easy to infuse a place with hurt. Before I moved here, I listened over and over to my favorite Pearl Jam song, “All Those Yesterdays,” and tucked one of the lines into myself: “It’s no crime to escape.” It makes sense that I would need to board a plane, fall into slumber, and wake up in a new place, a new season, smelling winter, as though I’d performed the tesseract I always hoped I would when I read A Wrinkle in Time as a kid. I traveled through space and time the short way, and even disoriented and dislocated, I had everything I needed the whole time.

You’re Invited to Participate: Racial Equity and the Literary Arts

Seattle City of Literature and the Office of Arts and Culture are pleased to present the final workshop in the series on ‘Racial Equity and the Literary Arts.’

Working with facilitator, Dr. Caprice Hollins, this program will focus on understanding racial privilege. Using lecture, discussion, and experiential exercises, participants will deepen their understanding of self and the concept of privilege. We will then discuss common ways that privilege manifests itself on an institutional and personal level, and how it influences relationships within and across cultures.

The workshop will take place on Tuesday, October 18 from 1:30pm to 5:00pm at the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle’s City Hall. There is no cost to attend, but space is limited, so please email rsvp@seattlecityoflit dot org to reserve your spot by October 14.

About the facilitator:
HSW_HollinsDr. Caprice Hollins, co-founder of Cultures Connecting, LLC, received her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Multicultural and Community Psychology in 1998. She became licensed in Washington State in 2000 and has over 20 years of experience teaching graduate courses, working with historically marginalized populations, researching, studying, and facilitating race related conversations. Her experience includes opening and directing the Department of Equity & Race Relations for Seattle Public Schools, developing and implementing district-wide and school-based training, while utilizing her background in psychology to assist district leaders and staff institutionalize change to promote equity and social justice. Dr. Hollins also works as a part-time core faculty in the department of counseling at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

My Imagination’s Blank Spot Takes a Trip to New Zealand

by Elissa Washuta

People have been asking me whether I’m excited to visit New Zealand, and the answer is yes. People want to know what I’m going to do there. My answer is brief: I’m going to lead a workshop for Ngāi Tahu writers, present a PechaKucha, and participate in an Indigenous writers panel. Yes, but—New Zealand. I know.

I’ve been out of the country fewer than five times, I think, for trips to Canada. I’ve thought I should travel more after I made an OKCupid profile and quickly began to sense, from the Machu Picchu photos and lists of passport stamps collected, that my lack of worldiness should be a secret. I grew up in New Jersey, sort of in the woods, a few miles away from a sod farming hotbed, and in those lakes and trees and people, I had a world.

I have been asked to write about my anticipation for this visit, but I’ve procrastinated, because when I think about my expectations and excitement for this visit, I visualize no landscapes, no scenes. I looked up Christchurch online, but was overwhelmed by the idea of planning for the trip, so I have only a single image of a street scene in my head from a tourism website that I didn’t explore. My life is spent imagining every possible thing that could happen to me, a process that makes up the gnarled nest of fear and hope in which I live, but this trip to New Zealand is one thing that’s going to happen to me that I can’t picture.

I see my own country through the trips I make as a working writer.  I spend time teaching in Santa Fe every year. I travel around the country for readings. This is how I spend my summer vacation: spread throughout the year, in patches and pieces, working. This is my comfort zone. I don’t think I could take a vacation without a tutorial.

With my trip just weeks away, I went back to the Christchurch tourism website. Reading about tours, museums, and parks, I realized that I draw only mental blanks when I think of places. When I think of New Zealand, I think of people.

In 2013, I told Ronnie I wanted to visit Aotearoa—and, really, it was the first place outside North America I’d given serious thought to visiting. This desire to travel, for the first time, was infused with purpose and thoughts of making relationships.

When I wrote a letter of support for Seattle’s bid to be a UNESCO City of Literature, I thought of the Māori visitors to UW, the group of Native UW students who spent a quarter in Iceland, and my colleagues connecting with Indigenous scholars around the world. I expressed my hope that the City of Literature could provide opportunities for the Native writers from Coast Salish territory to collaborate with other Indigenous peoples. To be the first Seattle writer to participate in the programming I imagined for the City of Literature is a tremendous honor.

I suspect that my imagination’s blank spot has to do with something that’s become commonplace in my brain lately as I take on projects that scare me in their thrilling enormity: My excitement is mixed with the sobering knowledge that I have a responsibility. I will make new relationships, represent my family and community, and learn from the people I’ll meet in Ōtautahi. I’ll come home with mental pictures of lands where, like here, people have created place by making and maintaining relationships with their environments over innumerable generations.

For more from writer Elissa Washuta, visit her website.

Q&A With Writer Elissa Washuta: She’s Going to New Zealand. What For?

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta will present a workshop and participate in a panel featuring indigenous writers at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta. Photo credit: Amber Cortes

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta is going to New Zealand. Read on to find out why she’s headed to that part of the world and how she gets preoccupied with poetry.

What are you working on these days?

Washuta: I’m working on my third book. I don’t like to say too much about it, because I find that it’s really not very good for my writing process to say too much about work that hasn’t been written yet. I’ve killed a lot of essays, and even whole books, that way. But I’m working on an essay collection, or two, or three. I’m burrowing into texts the same way I did with a college term paper in My Body Is a Book of Rules and filling those textual containers with my own story.

I’m also the writer-in-residence at the Fremont Bridge this summer, and I’m just beginning a big project about the bridge, the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the land, the water, and the unseen world.

What story or book have you read lately that’s stuck with you? Why did it resonate?

Washuta: Last Sext by Melissa Broder. I often feel kind of lost when I read poetry because I get preoccupied with questions about what makes a poem a poem and how line breaks work–the stuff I’ve been told not to worry about. Last Sext was different because it was like the speaker’s language had come out of my own body: “The hole I fill with sickness this time / Every time / This is what I do with love”

You’re going to New Zealand’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. What’s the plan for you there?

Washuta: Right now, I plan to participate fully in the festival. I will be reading and speaking at least a couple of times, and I plan to attend other events as much as possible. I’m going to be part of an Indigenous writers panel, and I’m making my first PechaKucha! I haven’t made any other plans because I’m not very good at travel. I’ve never been outside the US or Canada and I’m a little inept at sightseeing and planning for that, having never done much travel apart from book tour events, conferences, and work trips. I’m open to suggestions for things to do in Christchurch. I plan to be curious and happy.

A lot of your writing is influenced by your background as a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. You’ll be taking that experience to New Zealand to teach a non-fiction writing workshop with Maori writers. Do you think there are experiences or themes that come up time and again in the writing of native people? Why?

The things that I think a lot of readers identify as common themes in work by Native American writers–identity, land–are, really, common themes in work by non-Native writers, too. There is so much variation in theme, structural approaches, style, and subject matter in work by Native writers. I think that some readers who approach the “Native American” shelves in bookstores are expecting to find books about dead people, tradition, war, spirituality, and reservations. Perhaps that’s changing. So many of us don’t appear on those shelves, and so many of us are concerned with all sorts of other things: Law & Order, Disney characters, illness, cities, language, detective stories, parenting, vampires–the list is actually endless. I can barely even begin to create it.

For more from writer Elissa Washuta, visit her website.

PRESS RELEASE: Seattle writers to participate in New Zealand literary festival

Elissa Washuta. Photo credit: Amber Cortes

(Seattle—June 23, 2016) Seattle City of Literature is pleased to announce that local writer Elissa Washuta will present a workshop and participate in a panel featuring indigenous writers at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand. In addition to Washuta’s participation in the festival, Seattle poets Maged Zaher, Claudia Castro Luna, John Olson and Angel Gardner will have their work featured in the New Zealand literary arts journal Catalyst in connection with the festival.

Washuta, a Seattle-based memoirist and essayist, will run a non-fiction workshop for Māori writers in conjunction with Christchurch’s Ngāi Tahu tribe, and participate in a ‘Sister Cities/First Nations’ panel with a Māori writer from Christchurch, Nic Low, and an Aboriginal writer from Adelaide, Ali Cobby Eckermann.

“I am thrilled and honored to share my work in the home of the Māori people,” Washuta said. “Participating in an Indigenous writers exchange in New Zealand has been one of my dreams for years, and WORD gives me the opportunity to do this. I look forward to being in the company of such a brilliant group of writers.”

WORD Christchurch presents a variety of literary events, including a biennial Writers & Readers Festival – the largest literary event in New Zealand’s South Island. The events bring writers, thinkers and performers together to celebrate the written word and provide a window for readers to respond to ideas.

“Elissa is a masterful writer and we’re delighted that she’ll represent Seattle’s literary community in Christchurch, one of our sister cities,” said Stesha Brandon, Interim Executive Director of Seattle City of Literature. “We’re hopeful that this will be the first in an ongoing cultural exchange.”

Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the author of two books, Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and BuzzFeed.

She holds a Master’s in Fine Arts from The University of Washington and serves as undergraduate adviser for the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington and is a nonfiction faculty member in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is a faculty advisor for Mud City Journal and Saturday editor for The Rumpus.

Washuta’s visit is supported by the Christchurch City Council Sister City Programme, which is supporting the attendance of an indigenous writer from both Seattle and Adelaide, two of its Sister Cities.

For more information about WORD Christchurch, visit: http://wordchristchurch.co.nz/
For more information on Elissa Washuta, visit: http://washuta.net/about-elissa

MEDIA INQUIRIES:
Didi Kader
media@seattlecityoflit.org

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You’re Invited to Participate: Racial Equity and the Literary Arts

Seattle City of Literature and the Office of Arts and Culture are pleased to present the first in a series of workshops on ‘Racial Equity and the Literary Arts.’

Working with facilitator, Dr. Caprice Hollins, this program will provide a framework on how to address issues of equity and race in our community, and help to create a common language for entering into discourse.

Participants will begin to appreciate their role in becoming culturally competent by deepening their awareness of self–moving from color blindness to racial cognizance; increasing their knowledge of others and their experiences of racism and oppression; developing skills to work effectively across cultures; and advocating and taking action to initiate change.

The first workshop will take place on Thursday, June 2 from 1:30pm to 5:00pm at the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle’s City Hall. There is no cost to attend, but space is limited, so please email rsvp@seattlecityoflit to reserve your spot by May 31.

After the initial workshop, Seattle City of Literature will convene an advisory committee from the community to help shape our goals for the remaining workshops.

If you are not able to attend the first workshop but are interested in hearing about subsequent meetings, or participating in the advisory committee, let us know! Email Stesha Brandon [executive@seattlecityoflit.org] for more information.

About the facilitator:

HSW_HollinsDr. Caprice Hollins, co-founder of Cultures Connecting, LLC, received her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Multicultural and Community Psychology in 1998. She became licensed in Washington State in 2000 and has over 20 years of experience teaching graduate courses, working with historically marginalized populations, researching, studying, and facilitating race related conversations. Her experience includes opening and directing the Department of Equity & Race Relations for Seattle Public Schools, developing and implementing district-wide and school-based training, while utilizing her background in psychology to assist district leaders and staff institutionalize change to promote equity and social justice. Dr. Hollins also works as a part-time core faculty in the department of counseling at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.