Getting to Know Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall

We're thrilled to be celebrating another literary triumph of our wonderful Pipitea bookseller Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall!

Kōtuku is the editor of Saltwater Love Zine, winner of the 2020 Adam Award at the International Institute of Modern Letters - the award previously won by Eleanor Catton, Ashleigh Young and Tayi Tibble - and, now second place recipient of the Newsroom Writer's Residency.

Kōtuku was nominated for a collection of short stories titled Tauhou and wins $1000 plus five nights accommodation at Auckland's Surrey Hotel. If you're a regular at our Pipitea bookshop, you'll already know how great her book recommendations are. Make sure you come say hi and hit her up for the latest reading recs and staff picks.


We talked to Kōtuku after she had selected a few poems from Saltwater Love Zine to display in our Kelburn bookshop window for National Poetry Day back in August 2020 and she answered a few questions whilst she was at it! 


What’s your day job?

At the moment I’m a full-time Masters student at Te Pūtahi Tuhi Auaha o Te Ao (International Institute of Modern Letters) where I’m working on a collection of stories and poetic vignettes about personal, communal, and imagined histories/futures. 


What's your connection to Vic Books?

I work part-time at Vic Books as a bookseller and online journal assistant-type person.


Tell us a little about your latest project.

My latest project is my MA portfolio, which is still very much in progress. The collection takes place in an imagined space between W̱SÁNEĆ territory (Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island) and Aotearoa, which are the two places I come from. I’m pulling together elements of prose, short story, poetry, and creative non-fiction to tell a bunch of the stories that I am made up of.


The kaupapa of Saltwater Love Zine is to create a place for all Indigenous people to publish work that engages with love, and promotes care for one another and the land. Can you tell us more about the zine and how it came about?

I decided to apply to this MA programme after doing my first reading for Te Rito o te Harakeke at Pātaka Museum last year - I got to meet so many talented, radical, and loving Māori rangatahi. I really wanted to be a kaituhituhi with them and I decided to move home to Kāpiti from Waikato to do it! 

Once classes started this year, I realised there were far fewer of these voices around me in the workshop environment, and then once lockdown happened I felt completely alone and directionless. Saltwater Love was an idea I had with the intention of being able to read and share the writing I’m passionate about and felt like I wasn’t seeing enough in my tertiary environment. 

I was blown away by the work people sent me to include and I think if I hadn’t spent a few months immersed in that writing I wouldn’t be where I’m at with my MA portfolio now. The finished zine is available to download as a PDF on our website and features Iona Winter, Maggie Leigh White, Rhegan Tu ‘akoi, Briar Pomona, Kirsty Dunn, Stacey Teague, Terina Kaire, Vaughan Rapatahana, Areez Katki, Hana Pera Aoake, Cheyjuana, Ashleigh Taupaki, Miriama Gemmell, Ngāhuia Britton Bruce, Anonymous, Meg Prasad, Ruby Solly, Sanjana Khusal, and essa may ranapiri.


How are you celebrating National Poetry Day this year?

I picked some pieces from Saltwater Love to be displayed at Vic Books for National Poetry Day! Readings from the poets will also be up on our instagram page. I myself will be working at Vic Books Pipitea, trying to hustle some local poetry sales.


When you type into Google "why is poetry so ..." the next words that come up are either “powerful” and “important”, or “boring” and “hard to understand”. Why do you think opinions about poetry are so divided?

I think poetry is a really complex form, a super personal complex form. I know for myself I only respond to very specific subjects and stories. I think that poetry is one of the oldest forms of storytelling - from epic poetry, like the Odyssey or Illiad, to Indigenous storytelling methods, which centre communal experiences of learning, understanding, and imagining. If readers were able to easily access work that was written for people like them, to watch it performed live, or to see it displayed as the poet intended, there might be fewer divided opinions.


Who are your poetry heroes?

I’m only writing right now because Tayi Tibble, essa may ranapiri, and Ruby Solly are doing it. If they jumped off the literary bridge, I would do it too. Aotearoa is full of Indigenous rangatahi excellence! My supervisor, Anahera Gildea is a powerhouse and an amazing performer, alongside her cousin Hinemoana Baker, who I’ve always looked up to! Some of Hinemoana’s performances were the first I saw to help me understand and enjoy poetry! Joshua Whitehead is my number one, he rules my world for sure. He writes poetry, novels, creative non-fiction.

Joshua if you see this I love you!! Please call me!!


Instapoetry has people divided. How do you feel about it? Do you follow any Instapoets?

I think any form that challenges oppressive power systems is valuable. I think it’s also important to flood “literature” with as many voices as possible. I do prefer longer poetry (almost prose!) which tends to appear less on Instagram.

That being said, I probably only follow one or two. My cousin PEPAḴIYE (@pepakiye) writes gorgeous poetry about our W̱SÁNEĆ homelands, medicine, and healing intergenerational trauma. Her words sparkle and soothe me on my worst days!


What are you reading at the moment?

Han Kang’s Human Acts.


Are you enjoying it? Why?

It’s beautiful, but grueling. I just think about the research she had to do to write this book and the least I can do is read it and become a witness to what happened in Gwangju. I really admire Han Kang’s style and the ideas she chooses to present as an author. I’ve seen her prose described as poetic and succinct, which is what I dream about being described as!


Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

Probably Circe! I could happily live in exile, transforming trespassers into animals, brewing tinctures, growing exotic and medicinal plants. She has my ideal lifestyle!


Black or white coffee? What kind of milk?

If there’s fresh softbrew coffee, I’ll have that! Otherwise I usually order an americano (no cream, no sugar, sometimes over ice).

Kotuku pictured at a Verb Festival event. Photo Vanessa Ruston Photography.