On The Table is an interview series with emerging writers from the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship. Here, writers reflect on their Hot Desk experience, the changes to their practice, and the connections they made.
Alexander Te Pohe is a Māori writer, poet, cat-lover, dog-lover, and vampire enthusiast. Alexander made his mark at the Centre for Stories when he joined the Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship in 2019.
Please introduce yourself.
Kaya! Tēnā koe! My name is Alexander. I’m Māori, bi, and a trans guy. I was born Aotearoa and I currently live on Whadjuk Noongar boojar. I write YA fiction, short stories, and poetry. My pronouns are he/him and they/them.
Can you tell us about your writing practice?
I write with a vague idea of what I want and then I fill in the details as I go. I don’t like to plan things out too much as I find it too constraining. It’s better for me to figure things out while I write because it leads to avenues I wouldn’t have considered.
Where did you start at the beginning of the Hot Desk Fellowship? What changed in your work and what did the Fellowship allow you to do?
When I started the Hot Desk Fellowship I had the start of a manuscript I wanted to work on. The Hot Desk gave me space to write the first draft of my manuscript and allowed me to connect with other writers.
Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?
Doorways opened in my mind regarding how I could complete my work. I thought writing, poetry, and archival work had to be separate, but they don’t. The freedom to be myself impacted the freedom of what I can achieve in my writing.
How did you find the culture of the Centre for Stories?
It’s very welcoming. While I was there, I felt like I was part of a whānau (family) that fully supported not just my work but me as a person. It’s a much more inclusive space than what I’m used to.
What relationships have you developed from your Hot Desk Fellowship?
I think I’ve made a few friendships with other writers or, at the very least, the seeds of friendships are growing.
Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk Fellowship. Where will you take your writing?
I’m currently reworking the manuscript I worked on during the Fellowship. One of the big things I’ve done so far is change the setting. I originally set it in a future Australia, but, after speaking with my writing mentor, I realised that as a settler (i.e. someone who is not Indigenous to the land currently known as Australia) it is not for me to write the future of this land. That is why I’m moving my story from Earth to the fictional planet Aion. I plan to try to get this story published one day.
I want to start submitting to more journals and applying for other opportunities. Before the Fellowship, for the most part, I would have looked at writing opportunities and said “nah, I can’t do that”, but now I feel like I can.
Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?
My piece is a young adult dystopian manuscript set approximately three hundred years in the future. The story follows Matawhero, a Māori trans guy and dhampir, on his mission to kill the four vampires that created the dystopic society he lives in. A lot of the story is about trauma and how the building blocks of society can work to oppress people of colour and trans people. I chose to tell Matawhero’s story through a mix of fiction and poetry. I used the latter because some things, such as violence and trauma, are better expressed in poetry. It captures not only the experience and but the emotion through words and form, without a character having to say “this is how I feel.” This story is very personal to me as I’m writing the representation I have never seen in media. I’ve never read or watched a story about a Māori trans guy before and, even though he’s a dhampir fighting against evil vampires, I feel like his story validates my own identities.