Writer Vaughan Rapatahana: Former Kerikeri High Teacher Gone Global

By Michael Botur

Morrinsville writer Vaughan Rapatahana is a former Kerikeri High School teacher – and a Hong Kong writer, and a scholar who’s lived in the Philippines, and a poet published in France, and a writer for a Pennsylvania literary journal.

Brunei Darussalam, P.R. China, UAE and Nauru are in his CV, too… yeah, Vaughan gets around. Just get him started talking about his novel Toa, for instance (published in 2013).

Toa was based on life experiences. It was first called Messerschmidt… I used to have a Mark 4 Zephyr in my garage. I got that when I came back from Nauru in 1981, bought from a guy called Fred who owned a garage in Kaikohe… I was living in Pakaraka then. The house burned down. My Ngāpuhi wife was cooking chips in the kitchen, the whole house went up…I’ve now got another Mark IV with a numberplate Hippy 1 out in the garage, eh.”Rapatahana 2

Vaughan’s words seem to appear all around the world, and he travels as much as he can. If you have an interest in Kiwi creative writing, you’ve probably seen Vaughan Rapatahana’s name across dozens of publications, including his just-released novel called, er, Novel.

Born in 1953 in Patea, Vaughan, who is of Te Ātiawa and Ngāti Te Whiti ancestry, wrote a bit during the 1970s and 1980s, had a lull during the 90s, and returned with oodles of energy ten years ago. Since then, he’s been publishing poetry, academic text and fiction non-stop. Amongst other achievements, Vaughan has won the Proverse Poetry Prize, his poetry collection Atonement was nominated for a National Book Award in Philippines, and his writing has been published in French, Tagalog and te reo Māori. His poem Rangiaowhia has been shortlisted for the NZSA Canterbury Heritage Book and Writing Awards 2018. One of his proudest publications is 2012’s English Language as Hydra: Its Impacts on Non-English Language Cultures.

In between the Novel launch, the exhaustive appeal for reviews of Novel and working as a resource teacher, Vaughan has also been editing Ngā Kupu Waikato, a collection of Waikato poetry and has been contracted to write a third Poetry in Multicultural Oceania collection.

Money and time are restrictions for writers like Vaughan, which is why family are helpful. His daughter Pauline Canlas Wu – a tattoo artist in Hong Kong –  illustrated Novel, while wife Leticia Canlas helps too.

Vaughan takes a break from his day job for this interview, explaining that he is looking forward to retiring after November.

“I am now receiving the pension: I retire at end of November. I’ve got so many projects I want to go into… .”

It was 1977-79 when the then-24 year old taught in Kerikeri. Typical of Vaughan, he didn’t stay put for long. “That was after a year in the meatworks at Southdown, in between university and training college.” Vaughan recalls Kerikeri as, “a fairly Pākehā district.” He returned to live in Pakaraka and then Awarua, after working in Nauru.

At the time, Vaughan wasn’t aware of a nascent literary scene in Northland. “If there was stuff going on, I wasn’t much aware of it. I was starting to write myself. I got a couple of stories published in the NZ PPTA Journal.

“I remember going to see Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick up north about 1981. Sam Hunt definitely was an inspiration. We have since sporadically kept in touch, eh.”

Talk of the popular poet gets Vaughan namedropping contemporaries who have made a mark in NZ literature – fair enough considering Vaughan has been inside schools, universities and workplaces with David Eggleton, Roger Horrocks and James Norcliffe, and now sees a lot of fellow Waikato poet, Bob Orr. 

With the rate of creative writing that Vaughan publishes, one would think he has been going forever, but Vaughan feels it was only ten years ago that he came into his own as a writer.  “I wrote Messerschmidt – which became Toa – in the 1980s… I wrote a couple of crappy poetry books. The novel was written about 1986/87 then I stopped and got on with my life. Marriages, kids, going overseas, working, I thought I didn’t have much to say. It wasn’t until 2007/08 I started to return to writing and to getting poetry published.”

Vaughan says his books have “probably not” made a lot of money. “But I’m not in it for the money, mate.” He chose Rangitawa Publishing for Novel because “I’m not really a fan of going towards big publishers. If you look at my publishing history… many publishers are often middle class Pākehā and I come from a different more marginalised perspective.”

Vaughan says he is ‘ever the Outsider’ – a reference to the seminal book by Colin Wilson, whose literature Vaughan studied for his Ph.D.

Check out Vaughan’s fascinating work via the links below.


Writers Up North has one copy of Novel and one copy of poetry book ternion to give away. To win your copy head to Facebook @WritersUpNorth and post a rhyming quatrain about why you would like to win (and review) these books.

Links to some of Vaughan’s work

–         Novel at Rangitawa Publishing

–         A French profile of Vaughan’s work http://surledosdelatortue.free.fr/tourn%E9e%20vaughan/page1vaughan.htm

–         Vaughan on the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/16/ka_mate16_lees.pdf

–          Vaughan’s New Zealand Book Council Writers File http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/Writers/Profiles/Rapatahana%2c%20Vaughan

– A recent Ka Mate Ka Ora academic article about Vaughan Rapatahana






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