Courtney Sina Meredith: writer bursting with talent honoured
19 May 2021
Courtney Sina Meredith is the University of Auckland’s 2021 Young Alumna of the Year. Janet McAllister explains why there’s a lot to love about this writer’s work.
'Don’t trust a Samoan girl
She’ll eat your heart as you sleep
Until you are silt in the corners of pink state houses'
- From Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick (2012)
How do I love Courtney? Let me count the ways.
I love that she and the staff at Karangahape Road’s Bestie Café greet each other like long-lost friends, blowing kisses and making comic heart-shapes with their hands when she arrives for our interview, making me jealous. I love her butterfly-dancing artistic genius; and the integrity, commitment and clear-eyed vision she brings to all her writing and performance, whether it’s a children’s book or her stunning 2016 book of short stories, Tail of the Taniwha.
I love that she uses this same genius and commitment in her everyday work, helming the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust. Thanks in large part to Courtney’s vision and huge efforts, Tautai is undergoing a renaissance, growing its staff in a bigger, brighter venue on the K Road strip.
I love that in all her professional roles, Courtney – whose writing draws on her Samoan roots – is focused on “putting Pacific women, women of colour, at the centre of their own narratives”.
As she says, “Going from writing aspirational poems about a future where Pacific women are in charge, to a leadership role in the arts [at Tautai] – the significance of that is not lost on me. That’s exciting!”
Courtney – whose writing draws on her Samoan roots – is focused on “putting Pacific women, women of colour, at the centre of their own narratives”.
Her poetry is part of every genre-bending piece she presents. Her first collection was in 2012 (Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick), but she recites verse in her Tautai speeches and uses it in funding applications.
It opens her essay on endometriosis and chronic pain in Life on Volcanoes, a collection of essays I edited. In The Adventures of Tupaia, the book accompanying Auckland Museum’s 2019 exhibition about the Tahitian tahua (tohunga) who journeyed to Aotearoa with Captain Cook, Courtney’s inclusion of poetry is the product of profound thinking.
“I had to think and feel into him [Tupaia] a lot. With no women in the story, putting a woman’s voice on every page had to be the empowering part for me as a feminist.”
The book was shortlisted in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for children and young adults and was the children’s winner in the 2020 NZSA Heritage Book Awards. Courtney’s new poetry book, Burst Kisses on the Actual Wind, was published in April.
The 35 year-old says her writing has changed recently, partly because she has fallen in love “with four people at once” – her partner, visual artist Janet Lilo, and Janet’s three sons. Including Courtney’s beloved dog Sadie Rose, it’s a full household.
In-person, Courtney is a bright, generous, sparkling riposte to the ridiculous idea of genius as selfish curmudgeon. Genius once was, to quote Courtney’s award-winning play script, a “rushing doll”. She is now an uplifting, sharp-thinking leader.
I love, and am relieved, that she’s here, just when we need her most.
You said loving her was like trying to put your arms around the sea
You said loving her was like dipping your heart in salt water
You said she was a much better woman than you would ever be.
(From Remember When You Were With a Woman?)
Going from writing aspirational poems about a future where Pacific women are in charge, to my leadership role in at Tautai – the significance of that is not lost on me.