By Anna Bowden
Introduced as writers of ‘love and land’, New Zealand writer Alan Duff and Australian writer Melissa Lucashenko’s discussion around breaking the cycle developed to cover major themes of violence, masculinity, community and connecting people through books.
Duff, author of the rage-ridden Once Were Warriors, speaks about the profound effects of being loveless and how they are shown through his character, Jake: “My work is about the state of lovelessness and the mayhem that comes out of that.”
He speaks about the film adaptation of his first novel like it was far more recent than 25 years ago, recalling the reaction to its hard-hitting themes of domestic violence. “I remember the people saying ‘so what’s all the fuss about Alan Duff’, I went from zero to hero overnight. They said ‘this is how too many of us live”.
“I never wanted to point the finger at Jake, I wanted to hold a mirror up. The Jakes of this world are full of self-loathing.”
Lucashenko and Duff share their experience of prisons – Duff on the wrong side of the bars – and agree that most people in prisons have been abused in their lives, and for men masculinity remains an issue.
Duff describes his own battles with masculinity, even amid writing Once Were Warriors, of hiding his typewriter and shutting down music when ‘the boys’ came by for rugby: “I wasn’t prepared to come out of the closet with my love of classical music.”
However, the writers’ views differ on redemption and the place of cultural tradition in steering young men, in particular, on the right path. While Lucashenko speaks boldly of the importance of the egalitarian constructs of Aboriginal culture and keeping traditions alive, Duff holds a staunch view that “we forget” the parts of our culture we don’t want to return to and we must look to the future.
Duff began a literacy programme more than 20 years ago which gives books to disadvantaged kids. Since then, 13 million books have been given away, and there are currently 100,000 children on the programme.
Anna Bowden is a New Zealander living in London. Follow Anna on Twitter and Instagram@annabowden.