Identity: 801 Creative Women, Living Color; Mapping Literary Utah; Poet; Writer
Acknowledged as Samoa’s first contemporary woman writer, Sia Figiel´s groundbreaking first novel, where we once belonged, won the prestigious 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize and Best First Book for the South East Asia/South Pacific region. She is the first Pacific Islander to do so.
Her debut was followed by the publication of two other novels, The Girl in the Moon Circle, They Who Do Not Grieve, and a collection of prose poetry, To a Young Artist in Contemplation. Ms. Figiel also released TERENESIA, a collaborative CD of performance poetry with the poet and scholar Dr. Teresia Teaiwa.
Ms. Figiel has traveled extensively, representing Samoa and the Pacific Islands internationally at universities, half-way houses, prisons, Pacific Islands communities, literary conferences and festivals in Hawaii, France, England, Italy, Spain, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia, and the United States of America along with the eminent Samoan writer Albert Wendt, the Maori writers Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Alan Duff and her mentor, the late Tongan writer and scholar, Dr. Epeli Hau’ofa.
Internationally acclaimed, her work is translated to German, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.
A performance poet, Ms. Figiel was the first Pacific Islander to read and perform at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, London. She has held writer in residencies at the East West Center: Pacific Islands Development Program – Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa; the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia; Logoipulotu College, Safotulafai Savaii; the University of the South Pacific; Laucala Campus Fiji; and the Catalan Ministry of Arts and Culture, Barcelona Spain.
She was also the Distinguished Visiting Writer at the Univeristy of Hawaii, Manoa Department of English and taught creative writing there to undergraduates and graduate students at the MA and PhD levels. Additionally, she was appointed the Arthur Lynn Andrews Visiting Professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, an honor also given to Professor Albert Wendt.
Ms. Figiel’s work is studied not only in the United States but at universities internationally, such as at Auckland, Otago, Victoria Universities in NZ; Australia National University; the University of the South Pacific; Suva, the National University of Samoa; the Sorbonne, Paris; and Oxford, England. She has read and lectured at New York University, Colombia, Penn State, UCBerkeley, UCLA, University of Oregon, University of Washington, BYU-Hawaii, the University of Hawaii campuses at Manoa and Hilo, and at the American Samoa Community College.
Her unpublished scripts include: Fagogo o Samoa, I am a Samoan-American, Happy Birthday Lil’ Eagle, which has been read by Samoan Solutions in San Francisco and her own stage adaptation of where we once belonged, which premiered at the Museum of Samoa in 2012, was sponsored by the National University of Samoa, was produced by Ms. Dionne Fonoti and directed (with additional notes to the script) by Ms. Fiona Collins.
A visual artist and poet, Ms. Figiel’s paintings have been exhibited in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany where she held an artists studio and lived for 3 years from 1991-1994. Her poetry, written in both Samoan and English, won the 1994 Polynesian Literary Prize, judged by Professor Albert Wendt.
Before moving to West Valley, UT in 2012, Ms. Figiel was the Senior Policy Advisor to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin and worked with high school students in Pago Pago, American Samoa where she has lived for the past decade.
Ms. Figiel began work on ‘where we once belonged’ on a train ride between Prague, Czechoslovakia and Berlin, Germany, where she lived and came in contact with such global literary figures as Jamaica Kincaid, Hanif Kureishi, Carribean and African poets and the Nobel Prize winner of Literature, Toni Morrison, a great and constant influence.
She is also a translator and has translated Albert Wendt´s novel Pouliuli from English to Samoan as well as Robert Louis Stevenson´s The Beach at Falesa to O Le Matāfaga i Falesā.
While writing her groundbreaking novel, she worked a series of jobs to support herself in Berlin: au pair (French for babysitting), dishwasher, janitor, waitress and English tutor.
Ms. Figiel currently works as a caregiver to a 97 year-old poet, sculptor and painter.