Lynda Chanwai-Earle


NameLynda Chanwai-Earle (she/her)
Country of BirthEngland
Place of ResidencePōneke Wellington
EthnicitiesChinese (Cantonese), Pākehā
ArtformTheatre, Screen, Literature
Decades Active1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Lynda Chanwai-Earle is a fourth-generation Chinese New Zealand poet, playwright, screenwriter, performance artist and public broadcaster based in Pōneke Wellington. She is a pioneer of Asian representation in the performing arts and news media in Aotearoa.

Born in London in 1965, Chanwai-Earle spent her early childhood in Papua New Guinea before her parents returned to Aotearoa, settling in Te Matau-a-Māui. She moved to Tāmaki Makaurau to further her education at Elam School of Fine Arts and the University of Auckland, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1990 and a Diploma in Drama in 1994. She later completed a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters in 2006.

Chanwai-Earle’s experience growing up in Heretaunga informed both her practice at Elam and her work as an emerging poet. Published in 1994, the poetry collection honeypants established Chanwai-Earle as an artistic voice unafraid to address complex issues and “rock the boat.” Featuring poems such as ‘To Hastings with Love’, which touches on violence within the Polynesian community, and ‘Lotus Hook’, an autobiographical exploration of her mixed-race upbringing, the collection was a finalist for the Penn Book Awards and was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Writing for the New Zealand Review of Books, Charles Croot called honeypants “raucous, randy, violent, foul-mouthed” and was provoked to suggest the author needed “a strict regime of cold showers.” The book’s unapologetic cover art depicts a horned, gender-ambiguous figure wearing an erect codpiece – a character Chanwai-Earle had earlier created as a performance artist.

In 1996, Chanwai-Earle’s groundbreaking play Kā-Shue (Letters Home) premiered as part of the New Zealand Festival of the Arts, making it the first major show by a Chinese New Zealander, about Chinese characters, for mainstream audiences. A semi-autobiographical, multi-generational monodrama set between China and Aotearoa over 100 years, Kā-Shue was originally performed by Chanwai-Earle and grapples with aspects of her family history, the Chinese migrant experience and the legacy of the poll tax, of which she is a descendent and learnt about through the play’s development. It has toured internationally, been published and prescribed in school curriculums, and continues to be performed, most recently by Chanwai-Earle at Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival (2021) and Auckland Writers Festival (2022).

Themes such as racism, immigration, multiculturalism and identity politics define Chanwai-Earle’s practice as a writer and theatremaker. Drawn to “challenging the gatekeepers and breaking the silence,” her works often feature elements of critique and confrontation. Kā-Shue received both positive and negative reactions from the Chinese community due to its honest, unfiltered view of history and resistance to the model minority stereotype. “I knew that my grandparents would be turning in their graves every time I do the show, but I do it with a huge amount of love,” she said in a 2022 interview on Kā-Shue’s impact. “I believe so firmly that if you sanitise history, it’s a form of racism.”

Her dramatic works, such as the plays Foh Sarn (Fire Mountain, 2000) and Man in a Suitcase (2012), have raised awareness of being Chinese in Aotearoa, while her journalism over several decades, most notably for TV series Asia Downunder and public broadcaster Radio New Zealand, has foregrounded storytelling from an Asian perspective. Chanwai-Earle’s Eurasian identity is reflected in the use of multi-ethnic characters and the exploration of her Cantonese heritage through her writing. After releasing honeypants under the name Lynda Earle, she adopted her mother’s maiden name ‘Chanwai’. The name, like many Chinese immigrants, was incorrectly recorded as her great-grandfather’s surname upon arriving in Aotearoa in 1907.

Chanwai-Earle’s expanded work as a writer and performer includes touring with independent Māori theatre company Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu and collaborating with prisons to present poetry and theatrical works; several multimedia and performance art pieces presented in the early '90s; and a trilogy of plays (HEAT, HOLE and HEART) set in Antarctica concerning climate change and sustainability, the second and third parts of which she developed as Writer in Residence at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2019.

Upcoming projects include Farewell Guangdong (as director and editor), a six-part web series for RNZ based on Lily Lee’s 2022 history of Chinese refugees in Aotearoa; and Memory of Longing (as screenwriter), a docu-drama in development about the murder of Chinese gold-miner Joe Kum Yung by white supremacist Lionel Terry on Haining Street, Pōneke, 1905. Chanwai-Earle also continues to work on a long-gestating screen adaptation of Man in a Suitcase, which has been considered as both a feature film and mini-series and was most recently pitched successfully by Chanwai-Earle for development through Screen Canberra’s Screen POD programme (in partnership with the New Zealand Film Commission).


Key works / presentations

As playwright and performer:

1996–2022 — Kā-Shue (Letters Home), New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, Circa Theatre (premiere); various national and international tours

As playwright:

2021 — HOLE, Circa Theatre, Pōneke
2012 — Man in a Suitcase, Court Theatre (premiere), Ōtautahi; Haidian Theatre, Beijing (tour)
2008 — HEAT, STAB Festival, BATS Theatre, Pōneke
2004 — Monkey, Capital E, National Theatre for Children, Pōneke
2000 — Foh Sarn (Fire Mountain), Herald Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau
2000 — Box/Role/Dream, BATS Theatre, Pōneke
1998 — Alchemy, BATS Theatre, Pōneke

Published plays:

2016 — Man in a Suitcase, first published by Playmarket in SHIFT
1998 — Kā-Shue (Letters Home), first published by Women's Play Press

Published poetry:

1994 — honeypants, Auckland University Press

As producer and presenter:

2018 — Flying Solo (documentary podcast), RNZ
2011–18 — Voices (formerly Asian Report), RNZ

As director and editor:

2024 — Farewell Guangdong (web series), RNZ

Short films:

2002 — after... (co-directed with Simon Raby)
1998 — Chinese Whispers (co-written with Neil Pardington and Stuart McKenzie)

Multimedia works:

1996 — Letters, New China – a New Zealand Exhibition, New Zealand Festival of the Arts, Pōneke
1996 — Yum Char, Herald Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau
1993 — Standard Deviation, Artspace, Tāmaki Makaurau
1993 — Dementia Praecox, Wellington and Auckland City Galleries, Pōneke and Tāmaki Makaurau
1991–92 — Spawn – Spurn, Red Zephyr Festival, B-Side, Auckland University, Tāmaki Makaurau

Key awards

2019 — International Institute of Modern Letters: Writer in Residence

2000 — Wellington Fringe Festival: Best of the Fringe Award (Box/Role/Dream)

1998 — Wellington Fringe Festival: Best of the Fringe Award (Alchemy)

Related entries

Last updated: 6 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


A photo of a book cover. The title is styled in an uneven hand-drawn typeface against a purple and black background. Illustrated in silhouette is a horned figure wearing a codpiece.

Copy of honeypants poetry collection, 1994

A photo of a woman from the shoulders up, looking into the camera. She is wearing a black and gold costume

Lynda Chanwai-Earle as Salome in Cruelty by Nick Cave, directed by James Littlewood, BATS Theatre, 1995

A poster depicting a man wearing a parka with a fur hood. He is wearing snow goggles.

Poster for HOLE, Circa Theatre, 2021

A white van is parked outside of a theatre with artwork advertising a play on its side. Solar panels are installed on top of the van.

Solar-powered marketing for HOLE outside Circa Theatre, 2021