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Chanwai Earle, Lynda
Writer's File

Lynda Chanwai Earle

Wellington - Te Whanganui-a-Tara
Chanwai Earle, Lynda
In brief
Lynda Chanwai-Earle is a poet, multi-media performance artist and playwright whose ground-breaking play Ka Shue was the first theatrical work to focus on the experience of Chinese New Zealanders. Of Chinese descent, Chanwai-Earle was born in London and raised in Papua New Guinea. Her first poetry collection honeypants was shortlisted for the Penn Book Awards and New Zealand Book Awards, and her poetry has appeared widely in New Zealand and overseas journals.


Chanwai-Earle, Lynda (Lynda Earle) (1965 –) is a poet, multi-media performance artist and playwright whose ground-breaking play Ka Shue (1998) was the first theatrical work to focus on the experience of Chinese New Zealanders.

Of Chinese descent, Chanwai-Earle was born in London and raised in Papua New Guinea. She was educated in Hawke's Bay before studying at the Elam School of Fine Arts and the Drama department of Auckland University.

First published as a poet, her collection honeypants (1994) was published under the name Lynda Earle. The book was a sensational debut, shortlisted for the Penn Book Awards and New Zealand Book Awards. Always energetic and often disturbing, many of the poems in honeypants are set in the staunch, misogynist underworld of Hastings' Maori gangs. Despite the low status of women in this setting, the poetic voice is courageous and defiant: ‘...All she knew / was that she was a real woman / capable of fucking long distances...’.

Bill Direen in the NZ Listener writes: ‘I don't usually use the word "classic", but if this book isn't up there with Alan Ginsberg's Howl ... then Baxter didn't die with his beard on. You will not be able to put this book down. No selection of lines can convey its power.’

A dynamic performer, Chanwai-Earle is a pioneer of what she describes as ‘narrative-based jazz and performance-style’ poetry. The poems are by turns sensual and confrontational, notable for their strong rhythm and powerful narrative drive. Poems have been anthologised in Sevensome (1993) and Going Solo (1997), and have appeared in New Zealand and overseas journals including Landfall, Printout, Hecate (Australia), and Antic.

Ka Shue is the first New Zealand play to address a theme of ongoing interest to Chanwai-Earle, the voice of minority groups, in particular the voice of Chinese New Zealanders. On that theme, she has co-written a film, Chinese Whispers, with Neil Pardington and Stuart McKenzie. Ka Shue is now a video for schools, and she has co-written a second film, After (1998), with Simon Raby.

The New Zealand Heralds review of Ka Shue notes: ‘There is something cinematic about Chanwai-Earle's writing... the script is tightly constructed, packed with incident and wit... At once tragic, wry and drolly entertaining, Chanwai-Earle's nutshell epic deserves to pack them in...’.

Her other full-length plays are ‘Foh-Sarn’ (Fire Mountain) and ‘Mercy’. Susan Budd writes in the New Zealand Herald ‘… (Fire Mountain) explodes into violent action and a fiery, tragic climax… a stunningly beautiful production …’.

Chanwai-Earles one-act plays have both won the Best of the Fringe Award at the Wellington Fringe Festival: ‘Alchemy,’ in 1998 and ‘Box/Role/Dream,’ in 2000.

Projects in prisons are another dimension of Chanwai-Earle's work in poetry and drama. Her work with prisoners resulted in the anthology No Flowers: Writing by Women Imprisoned (1997), a collection of poetry by women at Arohata Women's Prison. The anthology was edited by Gilbert Haisman and supported by the New Zealand Book Council.

As a script coordinator, facilitator and performer she has been involved with theatrical projects created in prisons: A Christmas Wish at Arohata Women's Prison in 1997, and Kia Maumahara at Christchurch Women's Prison and the Christchurch Arts Festival in 1997.

Another element in Chanwai-Earles crowded artistic CV is multi-media performance. These include Dementia Praecox, Wellington and Auckland City Galleries 1993; Spawn - Spurn, Red Zephyr Festival, B-Side, Auckland University, 1991 - 1992; Standard Deviation, Artspace, Auckland, 1993; Yum Char, Herald, 1996; Letters, New China — a New Zealand Exhibition, NZ Festival of the Arts, 1996.

Lynda Chanwai-Earle received funding from Creative New Zealand in 1997 to work on a novel, 'Lotus Hook'.

There is an entry on Lynda Chanwai-Earle (under Earle, Lynda) in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature.

Chanwai-Earle was the NZ Poet Delegate attending the 2002 Asia Pacific Conference on Indigenous and Contemporary Poetry in Manila, Philippines.

Her short film collaboration After... with Director Simon Raby toured the country with the 2002 International Film Festival. It also screened with international film festivals in Tel Aviv and Brussels.

In 2003 Chanwai-Earle received the one-year Circa Theatre Birthday Commission to write her play Heat that premiered at Circa Theatre, Wellington, 2004.

Her play Monkey premiered in the 2004 International Festival of the Arts in Wellington and toured the country as part of Capital E, the National Children’s Theatre programme. The play weaves contemporary issues of school bullying into the mythology surrounding the Chinese classics Monkey and The Journey To The West. The play explores what it’s like to be an Asian child at school in NZ and uses acrobatics, music and shadow puppetry as motifs.

Chanwai-Earle's plays Foh-Sarn (Fire Mountain) and Ka-Shue (Letters Home) have been published in one book by the Women’s Play Press, 2003. Both plays are being taught as prescribed texts by Professors Witi Ihimaera and Peter Simpson at Auckland University. Ka-Shue was recently reprinted in the Manao journal, University of Hawaii Press.

Chanwai-Earle worked as a television journalist for the magazine-style programme Asia Down Under on TVNZ Channel One. She began work there in 2001 and the programme presented stories from amongst the diverse Asian community.

Lynda received the Circa Theatre Birthday Commission to write Heat which premiered with the STAB Festival at BATS Theatre in 2008. Set in Antarctica, about a love triangle between a woman, a man and a penguin, Heat was nominated for two Chapman Trip Theatre Awards in 2008, winning the coveted Best Actor for the role of the penguin. She is currently working on her feature film script Little Dragon with Shadow Films, which received development funding from the NZ Film Commission in 2007.

Based in Wellington, Lynda has been a full-time features producer at RNZ, creating the weekly Voices programme and other documentaries.

Lynda was the 2019 Writer in Residence at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington.


Lynda Chanwai-Earle's Playmarket profile

Auckland University Press profile