Who Should you write for? - Competing Literary Systems in Colonial Papua and New Guinea
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Post-war literary decolonization in the British Empire often pitted ideologies and scarce resources against one another in unanticipated ways. In any given colony there could, and often did, exist a rich mix of individual and organizational sponsors of print culture, whether these might be connected with the colonial universities and schools, newspapers, publishers and printers, NGOs, or the colonial administration itself. The motives for encouraging colonized peoples to write for publication were necessarily based in differing notions about the role of the writer in new nations and the priorities of decolonization. The colonial case study addressed by this presentation is that of the colonies of Papua and New Guinea in the 1960s and 70s, where three literary systems developed concurrently, sponsored respectively by the colonial administration, the newly-formed university and a consortium of missions. Through a detailed examination of the practices of their literary journals, the paper follows the struggle to shape one nation out of two colonies. The argument focuses on one particular year, 1968, when a fiery literary change agent, fresh from over a decade of decolonization in Nigeria, arrived to establish the creative writing courses at the University. The advent of Ulli Beier polarized efforts to develop writers for the new nation, and created parallel, competing systems. The paper follows how this situation developed and the reactions of the colony’s first generation of creative and professional writers to it.