Dahlia Malae'ulu was one of 8 Pasifika artists to win an award at the 2022 Creative New Zealand Pasifika Arts awards - an Emerging Pacific Artist award for her contribution to Pacific arts in New Zealand.
She was also the only female in this years recipients. The Samoan New Zealander is an award-winning author, publisher and creator of Mila’s Books – Pasifika children’s books that help tamaiti to be seen, heard and valued as Pasifika.
She is the first Pasifika author to have stories published across all schooling levels and travels around Aotearoa in a variety of reading advocacy roles.
We caught up with Dahlia for a quick Q&A prior to the awards ...
Describe your art to us, what’s unique about it to you?
I am a Pasifika children's author, publisher and creator of Mila's Books - Pasifika children's books that help our tamaiti to be seen, heard and valued. We are the only all Pasifika publishing team of children's books in the world who have produced Pasifika stories across all schooling levels.
Through our Mila's Books stories we have proven what is possible for us as Pasifika writers and independent publishers of our own stories. We have also shown that there is a real hunger and need for stories by us, for all of us.
What do you love about doing what you do?
I love sharing the power of our stories as Pasifika and being able to hold up a mirror to our tamaiti to show them we are more than enough as Pasifika. Our stories help us to connect, talanoa and heal. This is why our work at Mila's Books will always be more than books for us.
Tell us your next or upcoming project?
We are currently juggling a number of book projects which will be released in 2023. One book project is called, Pasifika Navigators, which will be the first Pasifika student poetry collection in the world. We worked with students with a variety of writing abilities across Aotearoa for this particular project and it was a reward in itself to support our tamaiti to discover and develop their storytelling skills, while showing the world that our stories as Pasifika are worthy of being published and celebrated.
What inspires you in life and in your art making?
From the beginning Mila's Books has always been about our tamaiti, and ensuring that our next generation understand that as Pasifika, we are enough and are more than capable of succeeding as ourselves.
My own two sons inspired my author journey and the impact our stories are making on our tamaiti, schools and families continues to inspire me and reinforces the real need for our stories. For instance, we continuously receive feedback about our junior stories helping families and educators learn our languages in a fun, safe and accessible way.
I have also had teenagers shed tears in front of me as they shared how our young adult titles have helped them to navigate and articulate how they do not feel accepted as Pasifika here in Aotearoa. There has even been feedback from parents who have told us that our stories have strengthened their relationships with their children and their connection to our culture.
School leaders and organisations using our stories tell us about how our stories provide cultural understanding which helps to inform their professional practices to better support our tamaiti. This is the power of our stories and why our tamaiti will always be at the heart of everything we do at Mila's Books.