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Interview: Alison Wong talks about A Clear Dawn

Alison Wong, one of the coeditors of A Clear Dawn, talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about A Clear Dawn.

A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021) is the first anthology of creative writing by Asian New Zealanders. It includes poetry, fiction and personal essays/memoir by 75 ‘emerging’ writers plus a substantial introduction providing background about Asian New Zealand history, writers and literature.

What inspired this book?

Anthologies are excellent ways for emerging writers to be ‘discovered’. My coeditor Paula Morris, who convenes the Master of Creative Writing at the University of Auckland, found such talent among the Asian students in her Master’s and undergraduate programmes that she suggested we coedit the anthology together. I was already familiar with the work of a number of the students, having been an external examiner. We both knew other potential contributors and realised there would be so many more who were not receiving mainstream publication or recognition. We took up K Emma Ng’s challenge from her long-form essay Old Asian, New Asian (BWB, 2017), reframing Aotearoa’s biculturalism as a partnership between tangata whenua (Paula) and tauiwi (myself).

How did you select the pieces in the book?

We shoulder-tapped people we knew and spread the word. We approached the editors of journals and literary blogs, the teachers of creative writing programmes, etc. We scoured journals, Best NZ Poems, Hainamana, the National Schools Poetry Award, those awarded NZ Society of Authors mentorships, Asian NZ theatre companies, and so on. We had open submissions.

Foremost, we looked for literary quality, but also considered diversity of literary genre, style, voice, theme, subject matter and setting, and diversity of the contributors themselves, ie, their ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic and trans/multinational backgrounds, length of time their families have lived in Aotearoa, their age (they represent every decade from teenage to their eighties), gender, geographic location and so on.

What was your process when editing this book with co-editor Paula Morris?

We both read voraciously and mostly communicated by email and Zoom. We shared files in Dropbox. I flew to Auckland in March 2020 and we spent several days working together in person. We selected the work together and split the editing. I edited all the poetry and we shared editing the prose. We often edited the contributors we each knew well and I particularly worked on writing which included Chinese language and cultural aspects. We invited our contributors to include their names in their ancestral languages and some included non-English languages in their creative work. I checked the non-English fonts, which wasn’t an easy task because of incompatibilities converting into the design software. Duncan Campbell standardised the Chinese fonts.

Together, Paula and I wrote the introduction, notes, acknowledgements, etc. Sometimes we shared screen and worked on documents during a Zoom call; sometimes we simultaneously wrote different parts of the same document in Dropbox; other times we wrote independently and then reviewed each other’s work.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

There is so much to include in the soundtrack. Grace Lee’s award-winning essay about anorexia references Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’. An A L Ping poem about Art Deco Napier mentions ‘Begin the Beguine’ and a Rushi Vyas translates into English Hindi lines of the popular Bollywood song ‘Tujhe Dekha Toh’. We’d have to add Elvis to go with Lynette Leong’s poem ‘The Chinese Elvis’, perhaps ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ just because I love blue and have blue suede boots and because we need a song with plenty of hip-swinging. We’d have ‘Sway’ by Bic Runga to go with one of Vanessa Mei Crofskey’s poems and Braveheart music and the haka for Romesh Dissanayake’s. We’d have a song by Panic! At the Disco to begin Melanie Kwang’s memoir, perhaps ‘High Hopes’, and the soundtrack from Disney’s animated Mulan (1998) to go with one of Nina Mingya Powles’ poems. Belinda Wong’s poem has a myriad of songs, including Chou Hsuan’s ‘When Will You Return?’, ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Skip to My Lou’. There’d have to be Luo Lang’s funeral dirge and ‘The East is Red’ for Sherry Zhang’s novel extract, a track from Joseph Celli and Jin Hi Kim’s No World (Trio) Improvisations for Joanna Cho’s poem about joining a cult, and Bengali songs for Rupa Maitra’s story. The extract from Mo Zhi Hong’s novel The Year of the Shanghai Shark mentions erhu music and it would have to be played by our fabulous collaborator, Jeffrey Zhao, who accompanied us on some of our South Island tour. Before Tze Ming Mok’s essay, if not music by Jeffrey, we could have something from the Silk Road Ensemble’s album Enchantment, possibly ‘Distant Valleys Are Green’, which features musical styles of Xinjiang. I’d add karaoke, Canto-pop and K-pop, in particular BTS’s ‘Dynamite’ for Paula, who adores its cheerfulness and anything BTS. And we’d have to have Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Welcome Home’ because all of us need to know that we are welcome here at home in Aotearoa.

What did you enjoy the most editing A Clear Dawn?

I cannot say just one thing. Discovering and meeting so many talented writers; building relationships and encouraging many of them in their writing journey. The partnership with Paula. She’s such a champion of diversity and encourager of emerging writers. And she’s so experienced writing, teaching, editing, promoting, chairing, applying for grants, etc — she’s like a ‘literary octopus’. We had laughs and a few tears. The finished product, which thanks to Sam and the staff and freelancers at AUP, is utterly beautiful to look at, hold, feel and read. Finally, celebrating the publication and the writing with so many of the contributors and with audiences at various events throughout the country.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Collapse? It’s not over. We’re still working with our authors and media, looking to create opportunities and organise events. I suspect Paula had a couple of glasses of wine and watched Korean dramas. I probably slept and tried to stretch out my neck and shoulders.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Nina Mingya Powles’ poetry collection, Magnolia (Seraph/Nine Arches, 2020). We have many connecting points, both having lived in Wellington and Shanghai and now living much of the time away from Aotearoa. We share homesickness and grappling to learn Mandarin. ‘In Chinese one word can lead you out of the dark / then back into it in single breath’, she writes with the understated longing and beauty so characteristic of her writing.

You are doing many events around the country, can you share your itinerary?

We have already launched at the Auckland Writers’ Festival and Unity Books Wellington and done events in Napier, Wanaka, Arrowtown, Dunedin, Riverton, Invercargill, and Matakana. Upcoming events for our contributors include WORD Christchurch (25-29 August), Going West Auckland (September-October), Nelson Arts Festival (24 October), Ladies’ Litera-Tea Auckland (31 October) and Verb Wellington (3 November).

Auckland University Press


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