Paying homage to the “creativity, courage and spontaneity” of the women who participate in the Home Ground collective is a key motivating force driving Salā Roseanne Leota, recipient of the Whakahoa Kaitoi i Te Ara Poutama Arts in Corrections Artist Fellowship 2022.
The Fellowship, worth $10,000, will support the Kāpiti Coast writer to explore and research her creative writing processes and abilities, with the support of a mentor and the Home Ground women.
“Initially, I was too nervous to apply for the fellowship but the other women encouraged me to put in an application,” Roseanne explains. “I realised it was a way we could work together to explore and give voice to the creative journey we’ve all been on.”
Creativity and wellbeing initiative
Home Ground, based in Wellington, is a creativity and wellbeing initiative for women who have experienced incarceration or are engaged in the justice system. Roseanne is its Creative Advisor.
However, she first got involved in Home Ground in 2019 through Community Corrections when she was serving a community service. She reluctantly signed up for its project, thinking it would be boring.
“I knew I could already write pretty well and didn’t think I’d get much out of it,” she says. “But the project went so much deeper than just the writing. I found it healing and transformative.
“Instead of taking the flow of my words for granted, I now see them as a cathartic form of expression for me, my family, and the causes I hold near and dear.”
Roseanne’s cultural heritage is Samoan, Chinese and Tongan. Mother of 11 children and grandmother to six, she lives on the Kāpiti Coast with her partner, Ieremia. In 2019, she completed a Diploma in Creative Writing from Whitireia Community Polytechnic and is now working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Massey University.
For Roseanne, family is “everything”: her relationship with her partner, the love of her children and their families; and respect for her parents and siblings. She says her family have been open in sharing the thoughts and experiences they faced when she was navigating the justice system. This provided another lens for her to reflect in her writing.
“My parents also instilled in me the importance of service – to my community and to my people. If I can contribute to that through my writing, then that’s what will drive me forward.”
Of Roseanne’s project, the assessment panel commented:
“We loved your project and very much enjoyed the samples of your poetry. You produced a great application that looks highly achievable and well-considered in every aspect. We were very impressed by the way you presented as an artist, mentor and connector in your community. It was also clear you have strong networks and great support to realise your ideas. Finally, we appreciated the way your project will enable you to extend your own artistic development while also benefiting others.”
Meeting Auckland poet Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh
Roseanne recalls meeting Auckland poet Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh, who facilitated a workshop at Home Ground. It was, she recalls, “inspiring” and “a breath of fresh air”.
“It was reassuring for me because I realised that I didn’t have to adapt my writing style or change who I am. That I could break the writing rules.”
In fact, Roseanne facilitates a creative writing workshop at Home Ground called Breaking the Rules. She uses two extracts of writing – Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors and Ruby Solly’s Red flecks in her hair – to show how free you can be with words, and how free words can make you feel.
Roseanne has written short stories, poetry, and for children and young adults but says she leans towards poetry.
Writing to understand what she was feeling
Growing up in Dunedin, she wrote to try and understand what she was feeling. “Even as a young child, I wrote poems when I was sent to bed early and couldn’t sleep. Poetry is a vehicle for me to express those raw, sometimes painful emotions and accept that those emotions don’t define or create the future but provide healing.”
The fellowship will provide the time and opportunity to explore other writing genres, including playwriting, as a way to tell stories.
Roseanne has divided her projects into five stages:
- A family fono to explore and capture their voices, and provide “the aiga” perspective
- A hui with the Home Ground women to consult and define expectations, aims and intended outcomes
- Researching, exploring and writing, inspired by her own and other’s voices
- A second hui workshopping the creative writing and seeking feedback
- A summary of the work and consideration of the next steps.
She is pleased the fellowship stipulates that the recipient will be required to work with a mentor.
“It will be fantastic to have a mentor, who will not only be a sounding board but also an example of a writer whom I can aspire to become. It shows that Arts Access Aotearoa is invested in me and my growth as a writer.”