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Simie Simpson crafts a reading list of recent books by Aotearoa’s LGBTQIA writers to mark Auckland Pride and her final year as Chair of samesame but different the LGBTQIA+ literary festival happening this week.

Simie Simpson by Giselle Clarkson

[](How to be well read in a year of dragons Chris Tse In the Chinese and Vietnamese zodiacs, the dragon is a symbol of strength and power. Those born in a dragon year are said to be naturally lucky and gifted, so we often see a spike in the birth of babies in Asian countries during a dragon year. Adding to the dragon’s uniqueness is the fact that it is the only mythical creature represented in the zodiac. For some time, Asian writers in New Zealand were somewhat mythical creatures themselves – their appearances in literary publications were rare, and very few got the opportunity to publish their own books. Many of the books that did get published are now long out of print. This historical underrepresentation of Asian voices in our national literature means that many of the valuable stories of our Asian diaspora are non-existent or hard to find. When I started writing and publishing in the early 2000s, this absence of voices made me think that our stories weren’t valued or wanted by the publishing industry. At times I felt lost, unsure of where I belonged in a Eurocentric literary landscape. Two wonderful things have happened recently that made my heart swell and reminded me how far we have come. In late December, Lee Murray was named the winner of the 2023 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction. Murray, who is an internationally acclaimed genre and speculative fiction author, became the first writer of Chinese heritage to be recognised at these awards. And just last week, Aotearoa-raised, Melbourne-based poet Grace Yee took home two prizes at the 2024 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for her debut poetry collection Chinese Fish (Giramondo Publishing), including the supreme Victorian Prize for Literature. It capped off a big day for Yee, who was also longlisted for the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards that morning. These are of course just two examples of the recognition that our Asian writers are now gaining both at home and abroad. My selections below are focused on writers of East and South East Asian descent and include books published over the last few years – my friend and fellow writer Saraid de Silva compiled a round-up of South Asian writers for Kete last year. As Saraid notes, there is much room for our diaspora voices to be louder. I recommend starting with the landmark anthology A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (Auckland University Press), which features a generous selection of poetry, fiction and nonfiction by our emerging Asian New Zealand writers. Fiction Lee Murray’s impressive body of work includes 16 novels and (as editor) 18 anthologies for adults and young readers. She’s been described as Aotearoa's answer to Stephen King and has been a champion for our local speculative fiction, sci-fi and horror writing community. Recent books include Despatches (PS Publishing), a historical horror novella set in WWI, and Grotesque: Monster Stories (Things in the Well Publishing), which received a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. Emma Ling Sidnam’s debut novel Backwaters (Text Publishing) explores the impact of the past on the present as its protagonist Laura sets out to learn more about her great-great-grandfather’s life story. The more she uncovers, the more she wrestles with her own notions of identity and culture. Backwaters has been longlisted for this year’s Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. In her debut novel Isobar Precinct (The Cuba Press), Angelique Kasmara uses Auckland as the backdrop for a gritty murder mystery that leads its characters into a murky world of illegal drug trials, bombings and disruptive technologies. Chloe Gong has had a meteoric rise from North Shore teenager to New York Times bestselling author with her These Violent Delights and Foul Lady Fortune YA series. Last year she released Immortal Longings (Hachette), the first instalment of her first adult series. Gong gives Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra an epic fantasy twist with body-switching, bloodsports and obsessive love. Poetry Grace Yee’s Chinese Fish (Giramondo Publishing) is a dazzling feat of craft – an innovative, genre-defying debut that blends poetry with found historical material to tell the story of a Chinese family adjusting to life in Aotearoa between the 1960s and 1980s. The multi-talented Cadence Chung has been making a splash in the local literary scene before she even finished high school. Her poetry collection Anomalia (Tender Press) is an arresting and confident debut packed with visceral, skin-prickling imagery. There are pieces in Joanna Cho’s bewitching People Person (Te Herenga Waka University Press) that I am still thinking about years after reading them. Cho’s debut book is a showcase of her unique voice, equal parts earnest and indifferent, held together with a potent emotional honesty. The poems in Nina Mingya Powles’ Magnolia 木蘭 (Seraph Press) are like watercolour paintings for the soul. Powles’ evocative use of language engages all of the senses as she explores the meaning of home, and what it means to be homesick for more than one country. In Under Glass (Auckland University Press), Gregory Kan conjures up a strange and unknown world with two suns. Kan uses self-imposed constraints in how he uses structure and language to test the boundaries of metaphor and abstraction. Under Glass is a collection to savour. Recent volumes in the long-running AUP New Poets series have featured poets Modi Deng (AUP New Poets 8) and Van Mei (AUP New Poets 6). Deng’s poems use restraint to magnify minute moments of daily life; Mei’s incorporation of Post-It notes, erasure and spreadsheets creates an unconventional reading experience. Non-fiction and memoir MasterChef NZ winner Sam Low released his highly anticipated cookbook Modern Chinese (Allen & Unwin NZ) last year to rave reviews for his accessible and charming breakdown of classic Chinese dishes. His book is more than just recipes and a reference guide – it’s a love letter to food culture, family and queerness. Foodie Albert Cho has amassed a large social media following for his hot takes on the local food scene. He charts the highs and lows of his life story in I Love My Stupid Life (Penguin Random House), a characteristically unfiltered book that celebrates the restorative power of hot soup, family and friends. Cho also includes some of his favourite recipes, from Kiwi favourites to traditional Korean classics. As well as receiving acclaim for her poetry, Nina Mingya Powles has made her mark as a beguiling essayist writing about food and place. In Small Bodies of Water (Allen & Unwin), Powles examines her experiences growing up between cultures, using water as a central metaphor for memory. Rose Lu was inspired to write All Who Live On Islands (Te Herenga Waka University Press) after a formative solo trip to China as an adult. Lu’s essays unpack contemporary Chinese New Zealand identity while traversing topics as varied as food, mental health and growing up as a migrant in the regions. In When We Remember To Breathe (Magpie), Renee Liang and Michele Powles cheer each other on through a series of short essays about the daily challenges of motherhood. An open and generous book that sheds light on the intertwined mess and magic of being a parent. For younger readers Now that I’m an uncle to an almost-three-year-old niece, I’ve been making sure that her book collection gets off to a flying start. Two essential additions have already been Nessie Sharpe’s delightful picture books Hurrah for Yum Cha! and Bang Bang Noodles, which feature both English and Cantonese. Award-winning cartoonist Ant Sang has lent his legendary illustrative talents to mountaineer Peter Hillary’s 4 Yaks and a Yeti (Bateman Books), an adventure story set high in the foothills of the Himalayas. Auckland writer Weng Wai Cha’s Lizard’s Tale (Text Publishing) is a thrilling story of wartime espionage set in 1940s Singapore. Lizard's Tale is an action-packed adventure for middle-grade readers and won the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction at the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Learning to Love Blue is the sequel to Saradha Koirala’s popular Lonesome When You Go. A coming-of-age story set in Melbourne, Learning to Love Blue follows 18-year-old Paige and her goal of making it as a singer-songwriter while trying to find her place and make sense of the world. Koirala won the Young Adult Fiction Award at the 2022 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. I’ve already mentioned Chloe Gong’s wildly popular YA series. Another series to look out for is Graci Kim’s New York Times bestselling magical fantasy Gifted Clans series, featuring The Last Fallen Star, The Last Fallen Moon and The Last Fallen Realm. The Korean mythology-inspired trilogy has recently been optioned by Disney for development as a television series. Coming soon… Lee Murray’s prize-winning prose poetry collection Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud (Cuba Press) arrives in April. The book weaves real-life narratives of Chinese diaspora women with the classic mythology of húli jīng, Chinese shapeshifting nine-tailed fox spirits. In October, UK-based The Emma Press will publish Maddie Ballard’s Bound: A Memoir of Making, ‘a sewing diary exploring love, shifting connections and self-care’. Maddie is a recent graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters, where she won the 2023 Creative Nonfiction Prize for her MA in Creative Writing folio. )Pride month is held in February in Auckland and for many of us, it is a time to celebrate our existence, because like for many marginalised groups, existence is resistance, right. The beginnings of Pride, around the world and in Aotearoa, were an act of defiance and resistance. Standing up and being visible, being ‘proud’ of who we are or even who we are yet to become. Recent events worldwide and at home have highlighted that now, more than ever, our freedom is intertwined. We cannot be free until we are all free.

In my final year as the Chair of samesame but different, the LGBTQIA+ literary festival held during Pride, I have been reflecting a lot on the beginnings and endings of things. I’ve been thinking a lot about Peter Wells, the founder of this festival and writers like Witi Ihimaera, Renée and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. Together they laid the foundation for other LGBTQIA+ writers in Aotearoa; they inspired and encouraged other writers, and they showed publishers and mainstream festivals that our community had a story to tell and an audience for those stories.

Every time the board sits down to plan a new festival and I think we have created something new and exciting; dare I say it, ‘groundbreaking’, I look back at a festival programme from Peter and can see the ground was already laid. Peter’s programming reflected the diversity within our community and created a unique space for LGBTQIA+ writers where they are able to discuss queer literature somewhere it is both implicitly and contextually understood; where authors don’t have to explain themselves as the audience is alongside them in their journey. Since Peter passed, the board of samesame has felt a huge responsibility to continue the work of creating this space, uplifting the work of our incredible LGBTQIA+ writers and encouraging our community to tell their stories — to show that we want to hear them, that we need them.

I think that is part of the reason this felt so hard to write. I can’t stress enough that this list can only ever skim the surface of the many amazing LGBTQIA+ writers who are punching above their weight in our literary scene. I have tried to focus on recent work, but seriously, hit up your local bookshop and ask them about other LGBTQIA+ writers and check out plays, online and other forms of writing — not everyone publishes books; there are some incredible queer comic artists, playwrights, journalists, activists, and some writers who only share their work online

A guide to dipping your toes in the queer waters: anthologies

Recently, we have had some anthologies that are just …argh, so good! So many of the editors of these anthologies are literary overachievers — writing on various platforms, performing and creating events. Just a note here: where you can and if you can, support these writers — buy their books, donate to small presses, literary journals and go to literary events, it makes it possible for everyone to keep doing what they do.

Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa came out (no pun intended) in November 2021. Editors Chris Tse and Emma Barnes have created something that will ENDURE in Out Here. I am not sure how to describe this beautiful collection of writing other than to say that for me personally, it is like the Shorter Oxford Dictionary: it is big, desirable and has everything you want in it. Also, shout out to Jack Trolove’s beautiful cover, making it way more spunky than the Shorter Oxford.

Editors Damien Levi and Amber Esau have gifted the world their debut poetry collection Spoiled Fruit: Queer Poetry from Aotearoa from micro press Bad Apple. It’s hot, it’s new as, and it’s delicious. Chris Tse and essa may ranapiri have much sexier, smarter reviews than I can ever write of this book, so just read them if you need convincing that your life can’t be complete without this book. Also, you really should check out Bad Apple Gay.

Issue 10 of Overcom by editors Grace Shelley and Mary Mosteller is a Queer Literary Journal and you can find past issues (and stickers) [here](https:// This collection of poetry, fiction, essays and art has been around since 2019 which is an accomplishment for mainstream literary journals, but I can’t even do the math to work out how long it’s been going in gay years. They publish two a year and you can collect the set in a variety of ways.

A question we need answered: Why are there so many LGBTQIA+ poets and why do they mostly live in Te Whanganui a Tara?

If you are questioning, you might also ask how they also find time for being editors, musicians, journalists, poet laureates, activists, performers, engineers, and all the other things. I just couldn’t make this list any shorter, because it was causing me physical pain to do so, so here we go: 

Anomalia (2022) by Cadence Chung made me feel like I wasted my twenties. Echidna (2022) by essa may ranapiri made me wish I could write like this. Head Girl (2020) by Freya Daly Sadgrove made me wish I was Freya. Short Films by Tate Fountain made me cry. Super Model Minority (2022) by Chris Tse made me buy another copy so I could share with friends. The Surgeon’s Brain (2022) by Oscar Upperton made me wonder how many others hid themselves. The Artist (2023) by Ruby Solly, following on from Tōkū Pāpā (2021) made me feel most of the above.

Just released or coming soon — poetry

i’m still growing (Feb 2024) by Josiah Morgan Talia (2024) by Isla Huia

Essays you need to read

Honouring Our Ancestors: Takatāpui, Two Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQ+ Well-being Edited by Leonie Pihama and Alison Green these essays feature writers from Aotearoa and the Turtle Islands.

Essays from writer, activist and disability rights activist Henrietta Bollinger Articulations (2023).

Sometimes, we read to see ourselves and sometimes to understand others

All of these books share unique perspectives of LGBTQIA+ lives, and cover some really interesting personal and public moments in history:

The Queen’s Wife (2023) by Joanna Drayton One of Them (2023) by Shaneel Lal Faking It: My Life in Transition (2021) by Kyle Mewburn Straight Up (2022) by Ruby Tui Downfall — The Destruction of Charles Mackay (2022) by Paul Diamond The Robert Lord Diaries (2023) by Chris Brickell

How fictitious is fiction, really?

Because Nancy Drew is your homegirl

Nancy Business (2021) and by R W R McDonald is a funny, sweet and nostalgic read. You will need to start with the first in the series, The Nancys which will leave you wanting to read more…

Things I don’t normally read but these books changed my mind and if they don’t change yours, we can’t be friends

Science fiction is something I watch, I am a total geek for it, but I never read it. If this is you, get over yourself and buy a copy of Na Viro (2022) by Gina Cole, Gina has taken the advice of Toni Morrison and written the book she wanted to read, and just, you know, created a whole new genre — Pasifikafuturism.

Home Theatre (2022) by Anthony Lapwood. Straight up, I struggle with short stories; there’re just too many changes in one book, too much resetting and having to get to know new characters all over again. It’s hard work for an introvert, however, I read this in almost one sitting and I know I will read it again soon.

Short story collection shout out too to Please, Call Me Jesus (2021) by Sam Te Kani, which made me blush

Dream Girl (2023) by Joy Holley. Again, short stories. So clever and sharp, I might not be cool enough for this book. You probably are.

If I have to fight you for the last copy in a bookshop for these, I will:

Tauhou (2022) by Kotuku Titihuia Nuttall, I read this book a year ago now, and I still think about it. Just adding it to this list has made me want to reread it.

How to Loiter in a Turf War (2022) by Coco Solid. Everyone needs to read this. It has so much to say about gentrification and belonging and it will carve out a place in your heart and reside there.

**Just released or coming soon — fiction

**kitten (Feb 2024) by Olive Nuttall and Amma (March 2024) by Saraid de Silva. Dealing with perspectives, past pain, love, the in-between-spaces, and family drama. I am always here for family drama. Especially other peoples’. I am adding these to my read-next pile that is always in danger of overwhelming me in the best of book nerd ways.

One for younger readers

Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let my Poi Fly by Tangaroa Paul. I just received a copy of this and I am living for it. It is such a beautiful affirming story, and you all need this in your life. 

Shout outs to: not totally queer but they’re here for you

Ngā Kupu Wero edited by Witi Ihimaera and Te Awa o Kupu edited by Vaughan Rapatahana and Kiri Piahanga-Wong while not queer anthologies feature some great writing by Takatāpui writers.


About Simie Simpson

Simie (Te Āti Awa, she/her/ia) was raised in Te Wai Pounamu and has flirted with living in Tāmaki Makaurau and the Kaipara but is firmly ensconced back in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She has worked in bookselling, publishing, and libraries for over two decades, as well as being a reviewer and editor for The Sapling and a judge in the NZ Children’s Book Awards. She is the Programmes Manager for Read NZ Te Pou Muramura and the current Chair of the samesame but different board, an LGBTQI+ literary festival held during Auckland Pride. When she isn’t reading or doing other book things, she is walking her dog on Pito-one beach.

Kete thanks Pounamu Wharekawa for the banner and illustrations celebrating LGBTQIA writers

Pounamu Wharekawa (Ngai te Rangi, they / themme / ia) is an angry indigenous bad bitch, fine artist, illustrator and muralist. They make art that speaks about intersections of identity through the lens of a queer, small town turned urban turned small town again Māori living their best boring life back in the house they grew up in beautiful Whāingaroa