Author Lani Wendt Young
Renowned author Lani Wendt Young gets animated during her talk at ASCC earlier this month. Mrs. Young, formerly of New Zealand and now residing in Samoa, spoke before a full-to-capacity audience of students, staff and faculty about her work and what motivates her. (Photo: D. Helsham/ASCC-CNR)

Author Lani Wendt Young Speaks at ASCC

May 8, 2015

By James Kneubuhl

In early May, the Language & Literature Department at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) hosted a talk by renowned writer Lani Wendt Young, author of the popular “Telesa” series of novels for young adults as well as the new “Scarlet” series for general readers launched with the recent publication of its first volume, “Scarlet Secrets.” Mrs. Young’s notoriety has increased steadily over the last several years, particularly among (mostly) young Samoans both within the islands and elsewhere, thanks in no small part to her positive depiction of Samoan identity within her work.

The size of the crowd in the ASCC Lecture Hall left little doubt as to the extent that Mrs. Young’s work appeals to her target audience. “The room was filled to capacity, with additional seating brought in and students standing at the back of the room,” said Language & Literature chairperson Mrs. Melelina Fiaui, who estimates that about 160 people were present. Along with faculty and students, ASCC Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. Rosevonne Makaiwi-Pato, Dean of Academic Affairs Mrs. Letupu Moananu, and Dean of Student Services Dr. Emilia Le’i also came to hear Mrs. Young. “The students were very receptive to her,” said Mrs. Fiaui. “Her humor puts people at ease, and she’s approachable and down to earth, which I think they responded to.”

Mrs. Young opened her talk by telling three stories, all based on her own experience. The first, “Fiapoto,” was about how growing up she was called “poto” for thinking she was so smart and clever. But when she started slacking on her studies and doing poorly in school, she learned that hard work beats talent every time, and that in order to succeed, we need to not only rely on our smarts, but also work hard. In the second, “Faamalosi,” she recounted sending her initial “Telesa” transcript to 30 publishers in New Zealand, Australia, and the US, only to be rejected by all of them. “When the door shuts in your face, go in through the window or smash the house down,” said Mrs. Young, summarizing the message of how we often have to persevere against the odds for something we truly believe in. In her third story, “No Fefe,” she recalled how when she began writing, she was too shy and embarrassed to put her name on her work. Eventually she realized that she needed to own what she said, and not worry about what others may think or like. “The starting is fun, but the hardest is finishing,” she told the audience regarding her own creative process.

Mrs. Young next fielded a question-and-answer session, with audience members posing questions on topics such as her new novel, which of her characters she most likes, what inspires her to write, advice on getting published, and if any of her future stories will take place in American Samoa. When asked whether she considers herself a feminist, and how she thinks the strong women in her books reflect the Samoan culture, she responded in the affirmative, that she is a feminist because she thinks all people should be treated equally. As to the role of strong women in Samoan culture, she referred the Samoan goddess Nafanua and how, historically, the culture respects powerful and smart women.

At the conclusion of her talk, Mrs. Young gave generously of her time speaking to many students one-on-one and posing for pictures with them. Mrs. Fiaui expressed satisfaction that so many students not only are aware of Mrs. Young and her work, but also feel inspired by her to become storytellers themselves. “It is so valuable to have people like Lani speak to our students,” said Mrs. Fiaui. “At the same time, I’m shocked and saddened at the number of students unfamiliar with Samoan authors. For many students, the only famous Samoans they know of are athletes. As a daughter of Samoa, Lani helps break the stereotype of the football-playing-Samoan. She is smart, hard-working, articulate, persistent, resilient, motivated, funny and ambitious - all characteristics that we want our students to have, especially our young women. Lani shows our young people that they too can accomplish their dreams, even if at first they are not successful.”

Mrs. Fiaui also shared how many of the Language & Literature classes try to incorporate the work of Pacific authors when possible. “Our literature classes (English 150 and 250) have contemporary Pacific literature components in the course description,” she explained. “We read Samoan poems and short stories by authors such as local poet Eti Saaga, Ruperake Petaia, Talogasa Tolovae, and the short stories, “The Olomatua,” “Ta Tatau,” and “Funeral in Savaii,” to name a few. Our late colleague Ms. Shevon Matai taught a Sia Figiel novel in her class. We also offer a Pacific Literature (LIT 274) class in the fall semester as an option under the Humanities cluster.”

For more information on courses offered by the Language & Literature Department, see the ASCC Catalog on the College web page: