Featured Members Archive

Featured Member: Robyn Bargh, Managing Director, Huia Publishers

By July 16, 2010 April 11th, 2014 No Comments

My publishing career began in 1980 when I got a job at the University of Papua New Guinea as a researcher and editor. I was thrilled – I knew nothing about publishing but I loved reading and books, and I could see gaps in New Zealand literature that I could imagine being filled by the stories of indigenous writers. The digital revolution had barely begun – we had word processors and the university had a basic two-colour offset printing machine – but this was a great apprenticeship for me.

Over a decade later, after my return to New Zealand and a number of editing, publication and policy jobs in government, memorable more for the technical skills gained and eccentric contacts made than the content of the materials, I decided to set up a publishing company with my husband, Brian. So, Huia Publishers was born.

Here we could provide a forum for Maori stories to be told and Maori writers We knew very little about trade publishing or running a business, but we started with a healthy mix of naivety, common sense and large doses of passion. to get published and a pathway for the cross-cultural stories of Aotearoa to reach the world. This was largely a leap of faith. We knew very little about trade publishing or running a business, but we started with a healthy mix of naivety, common sense and large doses of passion.

As so few Maori writers were being published, we needed to find out how many Maori writers there were, where they were and what they were writing. So, in 1995 we initiated the Huia Short Story Awards for Maori Writers (now called the Pikihuia Awards). This was fantastically successful, despite running the gauntlet of a few fanatical race relations complainants who accused us of unfairly favouring Maori! The Pikihuia Awards are now run every second year, and every other year we organise workshops and mentoring for Maori writers who have proven they have some talent. The awards ceremony is the largest Maori literary event, an opportunity to celebrate Maori writers and an inspiration for all.

International book fairs are an important way of keeping track of what is happening in the global world of publishing. We discovered that from Europe, particularly Frankfurt, the Pacific is seen as one large hole on the other side of the world, about which readers know very little. We had also been getting increasing numbers of manuscripts from Pacific writers in New Zealand, so we began to publish Pacific writers. Their stories combine well with those of Ma¯ori writers to bring a new edge to New Zealand literature.

After nearly twenty years there is still a lot to do. New Zealand is still desperately short of Maori writers and editors, particularly those working in Maori language. Publishers are having to come to grips with globalisation and digitisation and the fast-changing implications for production, marketing and distribution. And the magnum opus facing Maori in publishing is the huge task of recreating a body of work in Maori language that builds on the literary traditions of our ancestors.