Tusiata Avia (b 1966) has a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Victoria University. While studying writing Tusiata discovered an outlet and talent for performance poetry. Her solo stage show, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, premiered in New Zealand in 2002 and toured from 2002-2008 where she performed across the world, including Austria, Germany, Hawai'i, Australia, Bali and Russia. Wild Dogs Under My Skirt was later published in 2004 (by Victoria University Press) as
Tusiata has traveled extensively and lived and worked abroad from 1990-2001 before returning to New Zealand and her hometown of Christchurch. Many of her poems explore her personal connection to other parts of the world, including Samoa and New York. Other works relate to her mixed Samoan/Palagi heritage and experiences growing up in Christchurch. Although Tusiata references her personal experiences the issues at the core of her poems are universal. Tusiata’s first collection Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is a series of poems and a one-woman performance based around family characters. This acclaimed collection has been performed in places as diverse as Moscow, Jerusalem and Vienna. In her second collection, Blood Clot, Tusiata tells her version of the story of the Samoan goddess of war, Nafanua.
Tusiata’s third and most recent collection of poetry Fale Aitu / Spirit House was written over a period of 7 years and is organised within three broad chapters ‘Fale’, ‘Fale Mafui’e’, and ‘Aitu’. Fale Aitu / Spirit House includes a small selection of poetry (Fale Mafui’e) about the Christchurch earthquakes and the immediate chaos that ensued in the aftermath of the major earthquake in 2011. Tusiata’s collection mines the past and builds a vivid picture of past places and the spirits that inhabit them. A review by Emma Shi says “Avia is an expert at her craft and finds layers and layers of memory in old homes, broken buildings, echoed words. Although these aitu are eerie shadows in the background at first, it becomes apparent that these spirits are not here to harm, they drift and ‘move over us like water’. Memories may flit through the background but they are memories for a reason: they come from what is now the past.”*
Tusiata was an artist-in-residence at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies in Christchurch in 2005. She was also awarded the 2005 Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers’ Residency at the University of Hawai’i and was shortlisted for the 2006 Prize in Modern Letters. Tusiata was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award. In 2010 Tusiata was the Ursula Bethel/ CNZ Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals such as Takahe, Sport and Turbine.