Getting to Know Dr Karena Kelly

September 18th 2020

Academic, translator and VUW neighbour, Dr Karena Kelly, sat down with us during Te Wiki o te Reo Māori to chat about her passion for engaging with te reo Māori in her teaching practices and translation projects. Her latest book in translation is Mā Wai e Hautū Who’s Driving published by Gecko Press. 

What is your day job?

Lecturer - Te Kawa a Māui, Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

Neighbours. I guess I’m that kind of neighbour too, who pops over unnannounced to have a cuppa and a nosy through your stuff!

What are you working on at the moment?

An article considering the importance and impact of the developing use of te reo in New Zealand Courts, a book project on aspects of Māori linguistics written in te reo Māori, and a couple of translations.

What are some of your latest publications?

The last few have all been translations of children’s literature, little passion projects indicative of what my boy and I are reading at home:

Nōu te Ao, e Hika e! Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss
Aroha Te Whai Ora Aroha’s Way by Craig Phillips and Rebekah Lipp
Mā Wai e Hautū Who’s Driving by Leo Timmers

What are your favourite works to translate? It must be interesting and varied work, one day translating a kids book to the next day working on an academic thesis?

For sure - it’s a privilege to spend my day engaging with te reo Māori through teaching, linguistic theory and literary practise. I love the challenge of both technical and literary translations, but my absolute favourites so far have been translations of books and stories that my son and I love in English. That connection helps highlight the taonga within the original work that we strive to preserve in the translation. Sometimes it’s a wrestle, and the challenge is a level up again when some of the magic you are seeking to protect in the translation is its rhythm and rhyme. Of all of them, Dr Seuss may have been the most delicious challenge so far, with its rhythm, rhyme, humour, curly word play and bits of profound wisdom.

How have you celebrated Te Wiki o te Reo Māori? What events have you been involved with? And what observations can you make about how it is celebrated each year - do you see greater awareness and involvement from people across Aotearoa each year?

I was amazed this year by the historic Wā Tuku Reo Māori - Māori Language Moment. Over a million people engaging in te reo Māori in some way at the same time blew me away. To me, that was an extraordinary quantifiable measure of the perceptible change in attitudes and opportunities that I observe in my work every day of the year.

Some quick fire book recommendations please!

Mātaamua ko te Kupu by Tā Timoti Karetū
Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary by Kat Quin & Pānia Papa
Hare Pota me te Whatu Manapou (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, translated by Leon Heketū Blake

What are you reading at the moment? What do you like about it?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I think it is honest, raw, and beautifully written.

Hardback or paperback?


Favourite coffee?

Hot & sweet, shared with a friend with a slice of good kōrero.