Our history

Learn the history of the International Institute of Modern Letters—home of New Zealand’s oldest and most prestigious creative writing programme.

History of the International Institute of Modern Letters

Image of Bill Manhire House.
In 2016 Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters building was named Bill Manhire House in honour of the IIML's founder and first Director, Emeritus Professor Bill Manhire.

Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) is the home of New Zealand’s oldest and most prestigious creative writing programme.

A small undergraduate creative writing course, first offered at Victoria in 1975, has grown over the years into a range of specialised workshops. In 1997 we established New Zealand’s first Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing.

In 2000, the US philanthropist Glenn Schaeffer offered us his support to further develop the programme, and the New Zealand headquarters of the IIML was inaugurated at Victoria in March 2001 under the directorship of (now Emeritus) Professor Bill Manhire. An illuminating first-hand account of the IIML's origins and establishment can be found in Bill ’s 2001 keynote address, 'From Saga Seminar to Writers' Workshop: Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington'1, delivered at the AAWP conference,Writing Realities: The State of the Art.

Partnership links were also established with the Iowa Writers Workshop, the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California Irvine, and the creative writing programme at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The IIML’s US office was subsequently incorporated into the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Although these US connections no longer operate, we still maintain an active relationship with the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

In the years following the IIML’s establishment, we have expanded our MA programme and established New Zealand's first and most prestigious PhD Creative Writing programme. Our range of specialised undergraduate workshops has also continued to grow and diversify.

Bill Manhire retired as the IIML's Director in 2014 and was succeeded by Damien Wilkins. In 2016 our building at 16 Waiteata Road on Victoria's Kelburn campus was name Bill Manhire House in recognition of Bill's extraordinary contribution to the University and the wider world of New Zealand writing.

1 This paper was published, and is housed online by Text Journal of Writing and Writing Courses .