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Athabasca University

Kristen Pres in the Colonial Era

Kristen Pres is one of the two great Christian publishing houses in PNG. Formed in 1969, just one year before Glen Bays arrived to establish the Creative Training Centre, the Kristen Pres developed rapidly in its first year of operation to a staff of 70, of whom 50 were islanders. The directors of the Lutheran-inspired Pres had exactly the same self-sufficiency scheme as the Catholic-inspired Word Publishing. In order to be viable, the Pres would need to house its own printing facility, book bindery, graphics and sales department, and distribution network. The Pres was and is well-funded and has succeeded in providing the physical manifestations of a publishing house.

In the early 1970s, PNG writers had high hopes for Kristen Pres. Under Richard Adler, it was very active in promoting creative writing. For three years it ran its own literary contest and contributed for several years to the National Contests. It published hundreds of small, inexpensive volumes (about 40 cents [Australian] each) in the early 1970s. The print runs were optimistic: about 3,000. Most of their books were meant as Christian reading material, but many were not. In 1972, for example, along with Nidue and Pasinganlogo's Return from the Unknown (#805 in the KP catalogue), were Today's Stories from New Guinea (#800), Parables for New Guinea (#803), Torn Between Two Worlds (#807). The writing was good; the texts were interesting to read. There was obviously an editorial commitment to the work. The Foreword to Nidue and Pasinganlogo's book reads:

Let no one get the idea that a country that has no written history has no literary heritage. The literary tradition of Papua New Guinea is a rich one, based on the tales and legends of the many tribes. Kristen Pres is happy to help preserve this heritage in written from [sic], beginning with these two prize-winning entries to our First Annual Writing Contest.

In 1976, Sister M. Duchesne Lavin, who had collected and edited the poems in Pwapwa (Lotu Pasifika, 1973), trusted Kristen Pres with Mau'u: Legends of the Past...Dreams of the Future. Like all of Sister Lavin's collections, these poems by women attending the Sacred Heart Teachers College at Kabaleo, New Britain, were of literary worth. Furthermore, unlike many mission publications, they dealt mainly with human experience and not overtly with Christian experience.

Nevertheless, despite its good intentions, Kristen Pres was never able to develop a stable group of creative writers, nor a reliable readership. In a 1975 interview with Jerry Berg, the then director, Ulla Schild discovered one of the reasons for this failure. Berg himself was interested mainly in the technical, not the intellectual, production of books. Because of his own background and abilities, he had not been able to promote creative writing for the Pres in the same way that Richard Adler had before him, or in the way Kevin Walcot had for Word Publishing (Schild 86ff).

Besides these limitations in a particular director, the ideological restrictions imposed on the publishing programme by the Board (and experienced first-hand by Glen Bays) further restricted the Pres' access to creative manuscripts and to a broader readership. When Glen Bays had arrived in the colony in 1970 to establish the Creative Training Centre, Christian Literature Fund moneys had been deposited with Kristen Pres to enable publication of the works written by Bays’ students. However, Bays had difficulty accessing this money. The problem was that Kristen Pres had its own Board of Directors (Australian and American Lutherans), who were not persuaded that the CTC written product was Christian enough. Much of the work written by Bays’ students was critical of missionary practices and the Board would not accept it.

The Director of Kristen Pres, Richard Adler, who had been one of the people who first encouraged Bays to come, had no voice on the Board. But the moneys were there specifically for CTC use, so Bays forced the issue. The money disappeared. For this reason, the journals edited by Bays were mimeographed and distributed locally. It was a pity, because Kristen Pres had its own printing press, its own bookstores, and an established readership. After the relationship with Kristen Pres failed, the Literature Bureau and the National Literature Competitions were a natural avenue for Bays' young writers.

At the end of his three-year term, Bays needed to return to the United States for family reasons. But it must have been a bitter leave-taking. Richard Adler has written that he and Bays agreed there was no point in renewing the contract for a full-time writing trainer since the churches were not willing to employ the graduates full-time (Schild 84). But the fact is that, when Glen Bays left, the grant money left with him.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services