SIA FIGIEL is. A mother. A daughter. A sister. An aunty. A cousin.
A teacher. A painter. A novelist. A poet. But in her waking hours she
works as the Literature and Language Arts Specialist for the Pacific
Islands Centre for Educational Development in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
She won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best First Book Award
for the South East Asia-South Pacific region with her debut novel where
we once belonged – ‘an extended poem’, she says.
She has written two other novels:The Girl in the Moon Circle
and They Who Do Not Grieve, a prose poetry collection, To
A Young Artist in Contemplation, and a CD recording of performance
poems with Teresia Teaiwa – TERENESIA.
Sia Figiel’s work has taken her to Paris, Berlin, Barcelona,
New York, Honolulu, South America and she is the first Pacific Islander
to read at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, London. Her novels have been
translated into Portugese, Turkish, Catalan, French, Spanish, German
Figiel comments: ‘ “Songs of the fat brown woman”
was inspired by one of my trips to London. I was in a shoe store, surrounded
by all these African, Caribbean women. Of course we were all there because
we had size 12 feet and we were looking for shoes. London (and most
of the Western AND Eastern world for that matter) can be very unforgiving
to women with big feet. Anyways, I spotted a size 13 and was about to
dive for it when another brown hand grabbed it right before me. I looked
up to confront the hand and she looked at me with a big smile and said:
“Malo e lelei, tahine Hamoa.” And that’s how I met
my Tongan friend Mavis!
‘I was further inspired to write “Songs” after I
met and had lunch with Grace Nichols at my then apartment in Berlin,
a decade ago. Nichols is a former winner of the Commonwealth Prize for
Poetry and is of course famous for writing the Poems of the Fat
Black Woman BUT the difference is, she’s a very skinny woman!
I said to myself, someone with authority on fat has to be the one to
write the songs of the fat brown woman! And the rest, of course, is
history. Thank you.’
Poem: Songs of the fat brown woman