Courtney Sina Meredith (1986–) is a poet, playwright, fiction writer and musician. Her play Rushing Dolls (2010) won a number of awards and was published by Playmarket in 2012. She launched her first book of poetry, Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick (Beatnik), at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair and her debut book of short stories Tail of the Taniwha was launched in 2016 to critical acclaim. Meredith describes her writing as an ‘ongoing discussion of contemporary urban life with an underlying Pacific politique’. Her poetry and prose have been translated into Italian, German, Dutch, French and Bahasa Indonesia. She is of Samoan, Mangaian and Irish descent. Meredith holds a degree in English and Political Studies from the University of Auckland, where she also studied Law and co-edited Spectrum 5 (Penguin). She was New Zealand’s representative for the prestigious International Writing Progam’s Fall Residency at the University of Iowa in 2016, after which she was the Writer in Residence for the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska.
Poet Robert Sullivan described Courtney Sina Meredith as ‘a leader of the new generation of writers and performance artists gracing our poetry… Meredith’s voice is an exciting addition to New Zealand and Pacific literatures. That voice is full of gusto, attuned to a range of lived and heart realities. Through her absorption of Berlin’s high and low literary culture, her roots in the Auckland Samoan diaspora, and her familiarity with world Polynesian writing, she brings together an edgy singer’s strength, wry insights, sensual material, beautiful shards, blood and breath, monsoons, and glistening water.’
The power of her work is evident in performance and on the page. In 2008 she won the Going West Poetry Slam and the Montana Poetry Slam. Her play Rushing Dolls won the Aotearoa Pasifika Play Competition 2010, and two Adam New Zealand Play Awards: Best Play by a Woman Playwright and overall Runner-up. Rushing Dolls was subsequently published in Urbanesia: Four Pasifika Plays (Playmarket, 2012). Dr Diana Looser, in the 2014 Palgrave Macmillan anthology Contemporary Women Playwrights, says of Rushing Dolls: ‘The world the women inhabit as active, visible participants is “Urbanesia,” Meredith’s neologism for the energetic, urban, polygot culture of contemporary Auckland that brings the island and the city into profound collision, and acts as the crucible of new global identities.’
In 2011, Meredith was the first New Zealander, the first Pacific Islander and the youngest artist in the history of the LiteraturRaum project to be invited to Germany as writer-in-residence for the Bleibtreu Berlin. During her six-week residency she featured within the International Festival Berlin (ILB) and shared her writing in readings, appearances and interviews. She worked alongside renowned Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio, penning the poem ‘Mau’ in honour of Ponifasio’s dance company. She later performed this poem at the opening of the world premiere of Le Savali, addressing the German president at the Berliner Festspiele. The residency was a formative time for Meredith and she was significantly influenced by meeting writers in exile who had suffered at the hands of their own governments. She returned to New Zealand as a passionate advocate for human rights, holding readings in Auckland that linked to worldwide readings alongside writers such as Noam Chomsky, against oppressive regimes and in recognition of contemporary thinkers.
Meredith’s connection to Germany continued with the launch of her first book of poetry, Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick (Beatnik), at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2012, where New Zealand was guest of honour. The collection is a snapshot of her early 20s, and best described by critic John Daly-Peoples (inNBR): ‘She grapples with the big issues of poverty, conflict, sexism and racism, but also more immediate ones of sex, drinking and eating. All this is rolled into poems which are both serious and frivolous. She is a mixture of performance poet and romantic – a singing Ginsberg and howling Shelley.’ ‘Silvertip’, a 20-part sequence of poems, was published in Landfall’s Frankfurt edition in 2012 and is based in part on her experience in Berlin.
Meredith has continued to share her work with an overseas audience, touring with a group of esteemed global writers for the International Indonesian Poetry Festival (Forum Penyair) in 2012, where she was published in the Indonesian anthology What’s Poetry?. She was a delegate for the British Council for Phakama and took part in activities in London that formed part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012. During her delegation she visited the University of Oxford, where she met with leading scholars and became fascinated with the city. She returned in 2013 to write a series of short poems reflective of her experiences – ‘Commonwealth’ was published by Anne Kennedy in Ika 2 literary and arts journal (2014).
In 2013 Meredith was invited by Alistair Paterson to be the featured poet for Poetry New Zealand 46, guest edited by Nicholas Reid. Reid noted ‘the poems express Meredith’s concerns with culture, the meetings of culture, dislocation and mystery – in both the religious and secular senses.’ Her poem ‘Homeland’, was subsequently anthologised in Essential New Zealand Poets: Facing the Empty Page edited by Siobhan Harvey, Harry Ricketts and James Norcliffe (Random House NZ, 2014).
In 2014 Meredith was invited to the House of Lords by the BBC by permission of Lord Bikhu Parekh, to discuss Britain’s role in the world. The evening was chaired by Bridget Kendall and celebrated the success of the BBC radio show ‘The Forum’. Later in 2014, Courtney was successful in securing an Arts Grant from Creative New Zealand to write her first book of short stories Tail of the Taniwha.
In 2015 Meredith was a finalist for the inaugural Auckland Mayoral Writers Grant, her play Rushing Dolls was selected by Silo Theatre for Working Titles, and she was invited to be part of ‘Women of Letters’ as part of LitCrawl in November (Wellington) alongside Jacinda Adern, Kate Camp, Suzy Cato and others. Two of Meredith’s short stories from her upcoming book Tail of the Taniwha were selected for publication by both La Trobe and Melbourne University for an upcoming Volume called Touring Pacific Cultures. The first chapter from Tail of the Taniwha was released at the Frankfurt Book Fair October 2015, and the entire collection will be published by Beatnik in August 2016. Meredith represented New Zealand at the Mexico City Poetry Festival in November 2015, she took part in readings around the city and visited the home of Frida Kahlo. She was thrilled to have some of her poetry anthologised in Spanish.
In 2016 Meredith released her much anticipated book of short stories Tail of the Taniwha, she spent four months in the USA on writing residencies – giving lectures, readings, touring with the International Writing Program’s 2016 delegates and completing her second book of poetry. Meredith has international festivals coming up in 2017, the information will be shared here once it is available to the public.
Photo credit: Thomas Langdon, taken in Iowa City, Iowa 2016.