2020 Arts Foundation Laureate receiving the Theresa Gattung Female Arts Practitioners Award
Acclaimed poet, performer and writer Tusiata Avia MNZM is of Samoan descent, born and raised in Ōtautahi Christchurch. Known for her dynamic performance style, she has travelled the world performing her one-woman poetry show Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, which toured between 2002-2008 in places including Moscow, Jerusalem and Vienna, as well as destinations closer to home, establishing her as a leading New Zealand poet and performer.
Avia is the author of four critically acclaimed collections of poetry Fale Aitu / Spirit House (2016), Bloodclot (2009), Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (2004) and her forthcoming collection The Savage Coloniser Book (2020). Avia has been an important voice in Christchurch responding to the earthquakes and the mosque attacks and is a true leader in the community. “Tusiata Avia's poetry is quite revolutionary in the sense that, not only does it define the face of Pacific literature in New Zealand, but it redefines the face of New Zealand literature itself.” – poet and novelist Sia Figiel.
2002 was a significant year for Avia, she completed the MA Creative Writing Programme at the International Institute of Modern Letters; her two books for children Mele and the Fofo and The Song were published by Learning Media; her radio documentary, Which Way To Paradise was broadcast, and her one woman show, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt premiered at the Dunedin Fringe Festival.
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, is a deeply personal examination and celebration of what it is to be a Samoan woman, Pacific Island life and its some-times uneasy collisions with New Zealand.
In 2005, Avia was awarded the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers Residency at the University of Hawaii and the Macmillan Brown Pacific Artist in Residence at the University of Canterbury.
In 2006 she won the Emerging Pacific Artist award at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards. In 2010 she was the Ursula Bethell writer in residence at the University of Canterbury. In 2013 she received the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award; in 2017 her poetry collection, Fale Aitu / Spirit House, was shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
In 2016 the stage version of Wild Dogs Under my Skirt was relaunched (produced by FCC and directed by Anapela Polata’ivao) as a six woman ensemble show. It won Best Director at 2016 Auckland Theatre Awards and Best Production, Best Actress and Best Lighting at 2018 Wellington Theatre Awards.
In January 2020 Wild Dogs Under My Skirt made its American debut, off Broadway at Soho Playhouse, where it won the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year. The show was invited back for a return season April/ May 2020, but this was curtailed by COVID19
In 2020 she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.