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“Courtney Sina Meredith, The University of Auckland’s Young Alumna of The Year 2021, is a distinguished author whose work delves into issues such as racism, sexism and poverty and draws on her Samoan roots. She is the Director of Tautai Contemporary Arts Trust, Aotearoa’s leading Pacific arts organisation.

Courtney has been awarded prestigious creative opportunities around the globe. Cited by the Guardian as a potential future Booker Prize Winner and by the BBC as a poet of ‘sparkling eloquence’, her writing has taken her from mountain top villages in Indonesia, to The House of Lords in London, to the gardens of Frida Kahlo in Mexico City.

Heralding an era of niu leadership, she has a strong focus on giving voice to the contemporary experiences of Pacific women. Courtney is an Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa. She lives in Avondale, Aukilani, with her partner Janet Lilo and their children.”

Attended Western Springs College: 1999-2003

School life, what it meant to me: I loved my time at Western Springs, it was a magical edgy space where we encouraged each other to be our full selves. Ken Havill – the Principal, was a very dear family friend. I learned a lot about leadership from Ken, he was extremely determined to make Western Springs an example of excellence. I wish he was here to see how his vision has blossomed.

Greatest achievement: The love of my stepchildren, one hundred percent. The boys are my greatest joy, they mean everything to me.

Greatest influence: My family, my aiga, are the spiritual anchor of all I set my heart to.

Source of inspiration: All kinds of things inspire me, often travel brings something fresh to the fore, different experiences, memories, politics, culture, and definitely family. I’m constantly in awe of my partner and how she sees the world as a visual artist.

Working style: It depends really, in my day to day life as the Director of Tautai I have the best interest of my team and my community at the centre of how I work – collectively, with purpose, and to deadline. As a creative it depends on whether it’s a commission or a project from the heart, you can, with integrity and time, align the two. I’ve worked on small publications, through to partnering with major banks, my kaupapa is the same regardless – to ensure that whatever I’m working on or towards: I believe in it.

Taonga: I have a totem silk and leather scarf gifted to me from a leader of the Raven clan when I visited Alaska on a residency. I stayed in a small fishing town with the highest number of grizzly bears in the mountains. They’d had a terrible tragedy in that small community a year before I arrived, a landslide that claimed the lives of three young men. Everybody in the town was connected in some way and they were still in the process of healing together. I felt the love and the pain of that place, it has definitely stayed with me. The patterns of the scarf are unique to that land, I treasure the honour of being entrusted to carry their stories.

Likes: Authenticity, vulnerability, failure, and growth. Collectives, connectors, creatives and collaborators who encourage confidence and trust in their communities by working towards infrastructures of being that allow for experimentation, failure, learning and continual development. Oh and definitely good coffee!

Dislike: I like to think I’m pretty tolerant but I cannot stand haste and disrespect to elders, it breaks my heart. Honestly, let them cut in line, be understanding if they’re driving terribly in front of you, offer to carry heavy things if you can see they’re struggling – that’ll be all of us one day and may we find patience and grace from those around us.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week? We’re moving house so the past week has just been filled with packing and planning, but I have managed to listen to an interesting podcast on Spotify – ‘Something Was Wrong’ which delves into one woman’s experience of gaslighting, and I also watched the first couple of episodes of ‘Yellowjackets’ on Neon – a kind of feminist twist on Lord of the Flies. My favourite read over lockdown was definitely: ‘You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience’ edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown – every essay was mind blowingly brilliant.

Parting thought: I wish someone had sat me down in my teens and told me that you can change your mind while also moving forward in life, at the same time. There are no good or bad paths – just different routes to where you were always meant to be. As a society we are so fixated on destinations of achievement that we often miss the beauty in the small and unrecognised moments that connect us all along the way. I look back and I realise now that my very best days were just as important as the days I lived riddled with anxiety and doubt. In fact, continuing on when you really rather not – is a true win. A rich life has nothing to do with riches, really, it’s the vastness of experience and the depth of empathy that makes us who we are. In my mid-twneties when I thought I had finally ‘made it’, I rang my mother from Oxford to tell her all about my day and the panel I’d spoken on the night before alongside Rhodes scholars. I remember asking her, for the very first time in my life, if I’d made her proud? Had I grown up to be what she always wanted me to be? Like all good Samoan girls hope to do, whether we admit it out loud or not lol. I’ll never forget her reply, she said, “Sweetheart, I only ever wanted you to grow up to be one thing. Happy.” Wow I had some rethinking and some repurposing of my heart’s trajectory to do after that talanoa. May happiness be the ultimate life goal for us all.

Photo credit: Janet Lilo

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