Learning to Be a Writer in Papua New Guinea


  • Evelyn Ellerman Athabasca University


Model, Intermediary, Decolonization, Literary Influence, Literature, Colonial Universities, Papua New Guinea, University of Papua New Guinea, Ulli Beier, Prithvindra Chakravarti, Nigerian Literature, HIC, 2008, 2009, Evelyn Ellerman


For students and instructors at English-speaking, post-war, colonial universities, the literature curriculum had special significance: graduates of these institutions were expected not only to fill key positions in a new nation, but to write that nation into existence. Theirs would be the first histories, biographies, and literary texts of a new nation. This essay examines the role of those universities in the development of print culture by focussing on the teaching of literature and the training of writers in the colonies of Papua and New Guinea (PNG), where the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) served as a hothouse for late colonial cultural production. Established in 1965, UPNG was literally at the end of the decolonizing trail. Some of its academics had previously worked in Africa and other colonies, and had thus arrived at UPNG with ideas about the role that university-trained writers could play in nation-building. In an effort to re-build cultural self-confidence in their students, they purposely restricted the curriculum to works chosen largely from the traditions of European alienation, as well as African folklore and anti-colonialism. Student-generated creative writing was added to the curriculum immediately and then published or performed abroad through the efforts of their professors. Contextual analysis of the interplay between such pedagogical practices and the actions of UPNG's first writers constitutes an essential step in understanding the early literary history of Papua New Guinea.

Author Biography

Evelyn Ellerman, Athabasca University

Evelyn Ellerman evelyne@athabascau.ca is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Athabasca University, where she also directs the University's E-Lab project. Her doctoral thesis was on the institution of literature in Papua New Guinea. She is especially interested in the intellectual currents of the colonial world. Her research explores the intersection of communication technologies and colonial book history, especially as it applies to colonial print cultures and other media. Dr. Ellerman is completing a typology of print culture sponsorship in late colonial states that uses Papua New Guinea as a case study; it is intended for publication in 2011.