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Carolyn DeCarlo on New Zealand

Carolyn DeCarlo on New Zealand
New Zealand

Photo by Archives New Zealand

Carolyn DeCarlo is a fearless poet and writer living in Wellington, New Zealand (stalking her twitter page is really worth your time). After reading about her experiences in Wellington’s literary scene, I think creative women will rule the world.

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My experience of the arts scene in New Zealand is probably still tinted with rose-colored glasses. I moved Wellington in late 2012. Almost everyone – myself included – whinges (that’s Kiwi for ‘complains’) about certain limitations of life in NZ or in the capital, but I feel lucky that I can leave my house in the bush for an aimless walk down through the central city, and I can stop for a chat with a playwright and a poet on my way to meet a bookseller for a coffee before watching a local singer-songwriter weave stories to a comfortably crowded bar. Wellington, New Zealand is kind of a magical hub for creative talent.

WellingtonView of Wellington from the top of the cable car

It will be hard to keep myself focused on the literary scene because there’s quite a bit of blend between forms in NZ, as I see it. So I’ll focus on the rising current of creative women staking their claim on the shores of Wellington. It’s a progressive walking city with about 450,000 people living in the region and of that, I’d say about 200,000 are creative women. Here goes nothing.

Presses and Journals

One of the true tells of any good writing community, I think, is whether or not people are getting their work read. I’d like to highlight four small Wellingtonian presses and one literary journal that are not only making beautiful books, but are run by badass women choosing to publish a great array of new and established female writers.

Hue & Cry began as a literary and art journal in 2007 published and edited by Chloe Lane. It has given a voice to dozens of writers, both in Wellington and further afield. It has since developed a publishing arm, Hue & Cry Press, in 2012, whose first three titles gifted us with first books from Sarah Jane Barnett, Rachel O’Neill, and Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle.

AutobiographyofaMargueriteAutobiography of a Marguerite by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Hue & Cry Press, 2014

Cats and Spaghetti Press is a new small press operating out of Aro Valley, Wellington (where I live!) It is run by two high-octane writers, poet Emma Barnes and prose writer Pip Adam. They’ve published Pen Pal, a fold-out first chapbook by Sugar Magnolia Wilson and Rejectamenta!, a collection of rejected work.

Mākaro Press, run by Mary McCallum, hit the ground running in 2013, with over 20 titles under their belt already. Highlights of the press include their poetry series HOOPLA, my favorite being the film-oriented collection Cinema by Helen Rickerby, and This Must Be the Place, a first book from poet Annabel Hawkins.

Seraph Press is Helen Rickerby, full stop. A powerhouse in the Wellington literary community, Helen started Seraph Press in 2004 after years writing and editing JAAM (a literary magazine she co-founded in 1995). Highlights of the press are: everything. But if you want to start somewhere, go with two of the latest titles, Girls of the Drift and The Rope Walk. Both are debut collections, from Nina Powles and Maria McMillan, respectively.

Sweet Mammalian is my jam. Founded in 2014 by Morgan Bach, Hannah Mettner, and Sugar Magnolia Wilson, they are a holy grail of powerful female poets and editors in Wellington. Looking for a roundup of the best new writers in the country? Start with Issue One, continue on to Issue Two, then wait in a ring of crystals with crossed fingers and toes and bated breath for their next installment to appear.

SweetMammalianLadies of Sweet Mammalian: Sugar Magnolia Wilson, Morgan Bach, Hannah Mettner

The only question you might be asking now is where to find all these incredible books, in which case I’d point you to Unity Books, run by Tilly Lloyd. Located right in the heart of Wellington’s CBD, Unity is known for its great collection of contemporary New Zealand writing, and plays host for many book launches such as Therese Lloyd’s debut collection, Other Animals (the first launch I attended, back in March 2013!)

Reading Series

 Print is really only one half of the puzzle; the other is sound: are people’s voices being heard out in the community? Here are a couple of Wellington’s best regular outlets for poetry, prose, and miscellaneous monologues.

Food Court is a reading collective put together by Jackson Nieuwland, Simon Palenski, Eamonn Marra, and Carolyn DeCarlo (yes, that’s me!) Started in 2014 and fulfilling its bi-monthly potential this year with help from Wellington Zinefest and Creative New Zealand, Food Court exists for all writers who want to participate, and welcomes new writers alongside established Wellington voices. Every reading also features a koha (that means by donation, or free to those who can’t) zine as artifact, with writing by each of the readers, featured artwork, and several NZ voices from further afield.

LitCrawl, directed by Claire Mabey, is a once-yearly event in Wellington. With over 80 writers reading across a dozen or more events throughout the afternoon on 14 November, you’ll need to block out your calendar well in advance and choose carefully to maximize your day.


Poetry Night NZ is not your typical reading series, as it cheekily targets introverted and shy poets, shut-ins, and couch potatoes of the world by existing for your listening pleasure online. This sadly now-defunct Twitter series was headed by Ashleigh Young, author of Magnificent Moon and this most amazing blog: The upside is that even though Poetry Night has concluded forever (or so she says), you can still listen to the archives here.

Writers on Mondays, facilitated at least in part this year by novelist Emily Perkins for the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, runs weekly from mid-July through October. Designed as a lunchtime sound bite, the focus here is mainly on well-established NZ writers, with attention also given to current students such as fiction writer Alisha Tyson, poets Sarah Natalie Webster and Jane Arthur, and scriptwriter Rose Cann. I’ve been lucky enough to hear previous IIML graduates such as poets Freya Daly Sadgrove and Rebecca Nash read from their manuscripts.

It should be mentioned that the presence of three tertiary schools in Wellington breathes quite a bit of creative life into the city. Victoria University, and particularly its creative writing department and Masters and PhD in Creative Writing at the IIML, attracts quite a few writers from further afield to the capital, as students, professors, and writers in residence, including poets Helen Heath, Hinemoana Baker, Hera Lindsay Bird, Chris Price and Anna Jackson.

girlsofthedriftGirls of the Drift by Nina Powles, Seraph Press, 2014 and I, Clodia, and Other Portraits by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press, 2014, Photo credit: Carolyn DeCarlo

Founded in 1970, the Victoria University Press, with Ashleigh Young as newly-minted editor, has also been a longstanding publisher of grounded Wellingtonians such as Elizabeth Knox, Booker Prize-winner Eleanor Catton, and new voices like Morgan Bach (Some of Us Eat the Seeds, poetry, 2015). (Proving my earlier point, they also have their own record label imprint, Rattle Records.) Massey University and Whitireia round out the academic side of creativity here in Wellington, the latter of which’s practical degree in publishing has attracted bookmakers such as Auckland-based poet Ya-Wen Ho.

And if you ever feel at a loss for how to break into the scene in Wellington, you can always just do it yourself (a very Kiwi motto) and head to Pivot Print, co-founded by Josephine Jelicich, and make your own books on her exquisite risograph. Then you can sell them for cash at Wellington Zinefest and Matchbox Studios and become World Famous in New Zealand!

Rebecca Arrowsmith
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Rebecca Arrowsmith

Rebecca Arrowsmith is an artist and writer living in Atlanta.

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