I am a writer.
That’s a belief, short story author, Jenny Bennett, winner of the 2017 Samoan category for the Samoa Observer Tusitala Story Competition, struggled in silence to affirm in herself as she battled with depression and low self- esteem during her teenage years.
In a moving acceptance speech at the prize giving on Thursday evening, Ms. Bennett paid tribute to the award winning author and Editor-in-Chief of the Samoa Observer, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa.
Bennett revealed how almost 10 years ago, the Editor-in-Chief played a pivotal role in helping her to overcome crippling low self-esteem so that she could find her voice as a writer.
“I decided I wanted to write but I didn’t believe in myself… that was one of the struggles I had, I never believed in myself. When I handed my story to Muliaga and she passed it on to Gatoaitele, he called me up and said they wanted to publish me.”
“I wept for about an hour. After struggling with depression and very low self-esteem, having someone tell you that you can write – it’s not a small thing, it’s massive. So he published me and handed me my first 100 tala in exchange for my story.”
That 100 tala was photocopied and framed ten years ago by Ms Bennett and it hangs permanently on the wall to serve as a reminder to herself that she is a writer,
“Every time I look at it – it reminds me that Gatoaitele believes that I can write. He paid me for it and I’ve never stopped writing since,” she said.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer after the prize giving, Ms Bennett expressed why having a prominent writer believe in her work, freed her from her fears of inadequacy and as a result, unlocked her writing potential,
“This is Gatoaitele. He is such a prominent figure and particularly in literature I mean he’s written a novel himself and is the Chief Editor of the biggest newspaper so I have always respected him. To have him tell me that I can write and that he’s willing to pay me for it was a big self-esteem boost and I have never stopped writing since.”
“Writing has been with me since childbirth but the belief that I could write began when Gatoaitele published my first story in the Myths and Legends of the Ancient World column and that was in 2008. So it’s been almost 10 years since then. That gave me the kickstart that I needed – the belief in myself to get started.”
At 30 years old, Ms. Bennett says she has finally found her voice and her short story entry, “Matalasi” is the first expression of that strong voice. Her story is about the conflict- ridden internal world of a fa’afatama that will be published in the Samoa Observer’s collection of short story series ‘Our Heritage, the Ocean’ in the new year.