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Biggs Poetry Prize winner announced

18 December 2015

Collection of poetic biographies wins the Biggs Family Prize

Image of Nina Powles: 2015 winner of the Biggs Family Prize for Poetry. (Photographer: Caitlin Salter)A collection of five poetic biographies of famous and lesser-known historical New Zealand women has been awarded the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry.

Written by Nina Powles as part of her 2015 Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), the book-length folio, titled Luminescent, has been described by Wellington poet Jenny Bornholdt as 'engaging and colourful and alive to all kinds of possibilities'.

Although she started writing poems less than two years ago, Nina is already the author of a chapbook, Girls of the Drift, published by Seraph Press in 2014, from which a poem was selected for the 2014 edition of Best New Zealand Poems.

Nina, who went straight onto the MA after completing an honours degree in English Literature and Chinese at Victoria, says the opportunity to study at Master's level has been a significant boost for her writing.

'The MA programme gave me the tools and the confidence to call myself a ‘writer’ for the first time. More importantly, it gave me a community.

'It's been an unbelievable privilege to take part in the masterclasses, the readings and above all, the workshops with my generous, talented, fiery co-writers. It’s no exaggeration to say that this year changed my life.

'As a young writer just beginning my career, winning the Biggs Prize and receiving this recognition is an incredible honour. It feels surreal, and so wonderful that the prize enables a poet’s work to be recognised alongside that of prose writers. I now have the courage to start thinking about what my next book will be.'

Supported by Wellingtonians Peter and Mary Biggs through the Victoria University Foundation, the $3,000 Biggs Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding poetry folio in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing programme at the IIML.

Luminescent is a collection that tells the stories—or moments from the lives—of women who made a great impression on the world while they were alive, or left their impress in subtler ways. Among its subjects are Katherine Mansfield, the astronomer Beatrice Tinsley and Betty Guard, whose teenage years were spent as a young wife on a whale station. The collection also imagines the life of the little-known chorus dancer Phyllis Porter, who died in a fire at St. James Theatre in 1923.

Cliff Fell, a Teaching Fellow at the IIML and co-convenor of this year’s Master's programme, says he was impressed by Nina Powles's engagement with language and her ability to summon up and make real imaginations of the past.

'Nina's clearly a poet who is going places. She’s at an early stage in her career but had already made her mark before starting the MA, during which part of her focus has been on how emotional weather can be conveyed in experimental poetic form.'

Anna Jackson, a poet and lecturer at Victoria, has been working with Nina during 2015.

'These poems are centred around moments so full, so vivid, as to seem both beyond time, but also to embody time.

'Luminescent is a work that already reads like a finished collection, ambitious in scope, and very beautiful. It is the kind of work that gives rise to dreams that its readers will find haunting them, opening spaces inside them, for a long time to come.'

Previous Biggs Prize recipients include acclaimed poets Louise Wallace, Amy Brown and Joan Fleming.

A media release issued by Victoria University of Wellington Communications & Marketing. Kristina Keogh, Communications Adviser—Alumni, can be contacted by emailing or phoning (04) 463 5163 or 027 563 5163

Victoria University of Wellington: Capital thinking. Globally minded.

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2015 Adam Prize winner announced

10 December 2015

A coming of age music memoir about the 1970s and the outlaw heroes of the Wellington and New Zealand rock scene has been awarded the 2015 Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington.

Nick Bollinger, well-known Radio New Zealand broadcaster and journalist, says the decision to enrol in the MA programme at the International Institute of Modern letters (IIML) to work on Goneville, his MA thesis, represented a significant change in direction for his writing.

'I knew that for the story I wanted to tell, I would need to combine musicology and social history with something more personal. I hoped the course would help me find a way to weave these strands together.'

He describes receiving the Adam Foundation Prize as a great honour and a fantastic surprise.

'My year in the IIML's MA programme has been incredibly inspiring. It has been a privilege to develop my work under the guidance of skilled teachers and with the companionship of an extraordinary group of fellow students. I have benefitted immeasurably from the experience and I know I will continue to draw from it in the years to come.'

The book-length folio is described by Auckland-based journalist and editor Tom McWilliams as 'complex but compulsively readable, insightful and funny'.

Supported by Wellingtonians Denis and Verna Adam through the Victoria University Foundation, the $3,000 Adam Foundation Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding student in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing programme at the IIML.

In its quest to revisit and understand the early years of New Zealand rock music, Goneville traces the author's life between 1971—when Nick was 13—and the 1981 Springbok tour—when he'd been a working musician for three years.

Weaving together a memoir of illuminating discoveries—but also great personal loss—the narrative draws on vignettes of life on the road and studies of seminal bands and recently recovered recordings. It's a story that examines the cultural chasm opening up in the 1970s and the changes it brought about, changes that continue to shape our lives today.

Cliff Fell, a previous recipient of the Adam Prize and a co-convenor of this year’s Master's programme, says he was completely drawn in to Nick Bollinger's narrative voice, its intelligence, warmth and humour.

'Nick has done an unusual thing, producing a folio that is both literary in scope and popular in tone. His writing is thoughtful, amusing and lucid and his folio studded with vivid scenes and colourful characters.

Goneville will make a book that will find a wide readership among anyone interested in music and social change, among those who were part of the scene and those who weren't—who were perhaps in other parts of the world, as I was, or too young or not even born.'

Journalist and long-time editor Tom McWilliams, an examiner for Nick's thesis, describes him as a natural storyteller. 'I was delighted by Nick's sure-footed, clean prose, his aims, passion and writing chops.'

Tom is looking forward to seeing Goneville in print. 'The book is peopled with outlaw heroes, whose defiant lives and run-ins with the law are story-teller's gold, and is structured on short, invitingly titled chapters any of which suggest a lively reading at a festival or on the radio.'

Previous Adam Foundation Prize recipients include acclaimed authors Eleanor Catton, Catherine Chidgey, Paula Morris and Ashleigh Young.

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Scriptwriting prize winners announced

9 December 2015

A gripping story of the effects of modern day warfare on both civilians and combatants has been awarded the 2015 David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in Scriptwriting at Victoria University of Wellington.

Devils & Dust was written by screenwriter David Brechin-Smith as part of his 2015 Master of Arts at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML).

The feature film script was described by its examiners as 'completely gripping' and 'an interesting and important story' that needs to be told.

Named in honour of arts patron the late David Carson-Parker, and supported by Jeremy Commons through the Victoria University Foundation, the $3,000 prize is awarded annually to an outstanding student in the Master of Arts (Scriptwriting) programme at the IIML.

Devils & Dust is the story of a triangle of characters. Salman and Zahra are a refugee couple from an unnamed war in West Asia who have fled their country and are trying to make a new life in Auckland. When Lucy, a Kiwi soldier, returns home to a hero's welcome Salman and Zahra recognise her as the soldier who killed their young son in their home city. Salman's desire for justice collides with Zahra's need for a fresh start, while Lucy battles with her conscience and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

David is a respected screenwriter with one previously produced feature film (The Hopes And Dreams Of Gazza Snell) and a string of television drama credits to his name.

He decided to apply to the MA course to give him time to focus on a story he had wanted to write for a long time and says his experience this year has bought everything into focus.

On receiving the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize, he says he is flattered, honoured and proud of himself. He will use some of the prize money for a holiday, during which he hopes to start working on a new script idea.

A second award was also made at the same ceremony.

The Brad McGann Film Writing Award was presented to Ali Burns for her feature film script Adah.

Named in honour of the late Brad McGann—writer and director of In My Father's Den—the award is worth $2,800.

Adah is the story of a young woman who wins 500 years of extra life in a lottery, then must contend with the increased challenges of finding meaning in her life as she outlives everyone she knows.

Examiners described Adah as 'original, fresh…a compelling idea with clear and cohesive storytelling'.

Ali says she was surprised to be awarded the Brad McGann Film Writing Award and will now be able to keep working on her writing.

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Turbine 15 is live

9 December 2015

New work from emerging and established writers, including the latest graduates of the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), features in online literary magazine Turbine.

The 15th edition of the magazine showcases work by an array of New Zealand writers, such as Kerrin P. Sharpe, whose third collection rabbit rabbit will be published by Victoria University Press (VUP) in 2016.

It also features work from writers further afield, such as Irish poet Vona Groarke, and a new translation of a poem by Eugenio Montale—the 1975 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Two poems from 2015 Stout Memorial Fellow Gregory O'Brien inspired by a ceramic work made by Tony Fomision are included as well as two poems from Professor Harry Ricketts from Victoria's School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies.

Host of RNZ's The Sampler Nick Bollinger offers up his take on a garden and a long-lost recording by the band Mammal, and Lynn Jenner uncovers the history of Kāpiti in a hybrid of essay and poetry.

The 2015 Victoria University of Wellington/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence, Tim Corballis, offers eight short stories and is confronted with questions taken directly from his work in an interview with Master's student Jackson Nieuwland.

Turbine 15 can be viewed online at:

IIML Senior Lecturer Emily Perkins says the new edition showcases some of the sharpest new writing around, from writers near and far, in all kinds of formats.

'Some of these contributors are already highly regarded poets, fiction writers and non-fiction writers; others, it seems fair to say, soon will be.'

Turbine 15 is co-edited by Louise Compagnone, Alexandra Hollis and Jackson Nieuwland.

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IIML graduates on Book Awards long list

26 November 2015

The 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Award's inaugural longlist has been announced and IIML graduates have a strong presence.

Longlisted titles in the Fiction category include The Chimes by Anna Smaill (MA in Creative Writing), The Invisible Mile by David Coventry (MA in Creative Writing), and Reach by Laurence Fearnley (PhD Creative Writing). Lost and Gone Away by Lynn Jenner (PhD Creative Writing) is longlisted in the General Non Fiction category, and the Poetry category includes How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse (MA in Creative Writing) and Dear Neil Roberts by Airini Beautrais (MA in Creative Writing and current PhD candidate). Read more about our students and graduates.

Jennifer Compton's Mr Clean & The Junkie, published by MA in Creative Writing graduate Mary McCallum's Mākaro Press, is also longlisted in the Poetry category, and Victoria University Press has six books in the longlist, including The Invisible Mile and Dear Neil Roberts. Read the full longlist.

Following a 12-month hiatus, the Book Awards has returned with a new major sponsor, Auckland developers Ockham Residential, and an expanded judging panel of 12  academics, writers, journalists, commentators, former publishers and booksellers from around New Zealand. In recognition of the fact that no Award was held in 2015, the longlist features New Zealand books published in the past two years. The shortlist will be announced on 8 March 2016.

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New Generation Awards for MA in Creative Writing graduates

28 October 2015

Poet and author Anna Smaill (MA in Creative Writing 2001) and writer and filmmaker Tusi Tamasese (MA in Creative Writing 2007) have each been recognised with a prestigious New Generation Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. The New Generation Award recognises 'searching minds with a depth of knowledge and extraordinary ability to thinking innovatively', and is intended to support younger artists at a critical and exciting time in their development.

The recipients were announced on 28 October at the Westpac New Zealand Arts Awards 2015. Visual artist Simon Denny received a New Generation Award alongside Anna and Tusi. The recipients of the 2015 Laureate Award, Marti Friedlander Photographic Award, and Mallinson Rendel Award were also announced at the event.

Anna's first book was The Violinist in Spring (VUP, 2005), a collection of poetry named as one of the NZ Listener's Best Books of 2006. Her debut novel The Chimes (Sceptre, 2015) received rave reviews and was longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.

The film script Tusi completed for the MA in 2007 won that year's David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in Scriptwriting and the Dominion Post Award. His 2009 short film Va Tapuia/Sacred Spaces was widely screened in international festivals. Tusi's MA script subsequently became his feature film directorial debut O le Tulafale/The Orator, which premiered in competition at the 2011 Venice Film Festival and won numerous awards. Read about Tusi's experience of the MA Scriptwriting programme in his own words.

Creative Writing graduates Eleanor Catton and Eli Kent (MA), Anna Sanderson (MA and current PhD candidate) and Pip Adam (PhD ) are among the previous recipients of this prestigious award.

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2016 Writer in Residence at the IIML

20 October 2015

 Anne Kennedy (photographed by Susanna Burton)

Novelist, poet and film writer Anne Kennedy has been appointed the Victoria University of Wellington / Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence for 2016, based at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML).

Since her 1988 novella 100 Traditional Smiles, Ms Kennedy, a Victoria University graduate, has been regarded as one of New Zealand's most original and gifted writers. She has twice been awarded New Zealand's top prize for poetry and her most recent novel, The Last Days of the National Costume, was a finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Ms Kennedy has also written screenplays for seminal New Zealand short films such as Danny and Raewyn and Jewel’s Darl (from her own BNZ-Katherine Mansfield-award-winning story), and the features Crush and Monkey's Mask. Her work is published internationally and she has taught at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, and the Manukau Institute of Technology, where she is editor of the literary journal Ika.

Ms Kennedy's writing is praised for its ingenuity, love of language, playfulness and range. Her fiction, always interested in questions of culture, politics and geography, draws on influences from other art forms and 'seduces with the sheer joy in its writing' (NZ Listener).

Director of the IIML, Damien Wilkins, says, 'Anne is one of the most inventive and accomplished writers we have. She moves from poetry to fiction and back again with startling results. Her risk-taking and her commitment to fresh modes of seeing is an inspiration. We're thrilled that Anne will be at the IIML next year.'

Ms Kennedy plans to use the residency to work on a new novel set largely in Hawai’i, where she lived for ten years, that will speak to post-colonial situations and their aftermaths around the world, including Aotearoa.

She says, 'I have a cyclone-sized thank you to make:

'I'm going to be the luckiest writer in New Zealand in 2016. I'm going to have an office at IIML and get paid to sit in it and write. I’ll probably come out of the office from time to time and go to the odd literary event, Wellington being famous for such things, and such people. When it's windy out there, my DNA will remind me (because I'm from Wellington, a long time ago) how invigorating wind is for feeling and thinking. I'm looking forward to being buffeted.

'Recently, I've have some words of Adrienne Rich blowing around in my head: "We must use what we have to invent what we desire." My "have" has just expanded, miraculously. I hope I can do justice to the rest.

'Thank you, IIML and Creative New Zealand, for this compelling opportunity for me personally, and for continuing to create the spaces we need in Aotearoa for our literatures.'

(Anne Kennedy photographed by Susanna Burton.)

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National Schools Poetry Award winner announced

28 August 2015


2015 National Schools Poetry Award winner Grace Lee

Reviving a ritual—a poet is born

A Year 13 student at Auckland International College has won the National Schools Poetry Award for 2015, organised by Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML).

Grace Lee won the award for her poem 'Eileithyia', which she says was inspired by the timeless ritual of birth.

Grace says she has been interested in writing and reading poetry for a long time.

'I thought poetry would be a great medium through which I could look at the idea of femininity and how it has changed over time.'

Cliff Fell—competition judge, poet and IIML Teaching Fellow—says 'Eileithyia' is about the most universal of all things, being born.

'The title refers to the Greek goddess of childbirth and the poem renews the ancient rituals and rites relating to childbirth by seeing them through young, contemporary eyes.'

What drew Cliff to the poem was the gusto and exuberant music of its lines and imagery.

'This is a poem that is unashamedly in love with the idea of life, and which conveys an emotion that is inevitably compelling.'

Grace was one of ten finalists in the poetry competition for Year 12 and 13 secondary school students. Entries came from senior secondary students all over New Zealand.

Cliff says he enjoyed reading the range of poems that were submitted, some of them very promising.

Grace will receive $500 cash, as well as a $500 book grant for her school library. Her poem will be displayed on posters throughout New Zealand. In addition, Grace and the nine other finalists will attend a poetry masterclass at the IIML, with accommodation courtesy of the Bolton Hotel. The masterclass has long been a highlight of the National Schools Poetry Award, which began in 2003.

This year the full Award programme has been made possible by the generosity of Creative New Zealand and the donors to the Award's Boosted Campaign, in particular Ogilvy & Mather and Weta Digital.

All ten finalists receive a package of literary prizes and subscriptions from the New Zealand Book Council, New Zealand Society of Authors, Victoria University Press, New Zealand literary journals Sport and Landfall, and Booksellers New Zealand, as well as two anthologies edited by the late Harvey McQueen, donated in his memory by Anne Else.

The other finalists are:
• Josh Richard, Collingwood Area School
• Katie Hooper, Timaru Girls' High
• Anastazia Docherty, Cambridge High School
• Leah Dodd, New Plymouth Girls' High School
• Holly Morten, Otumoetai College
• Sarah Liu, Epsom Girls' Grammar School
• Alyxandra Devlin, St Mary's Diocesan New Plymouth
• Amy Huang, Rangi Ruru Girls' School
• Jake Kelly-Hulse, Sacred Heart College Auckland.

Grace Lee will read her poem at 1pm today in Auckland International College's school hall as part of the school's celebration of National Poetry Day.


Her belly is effervescent—
explosive with life bursting forth,
the buttons on her blouse hanging on
by straining threads.

Dewy green fields run on for miles in her womb;
blood-roses bloom from veins, cords,
saltwater, and steam with life.
Passion breathes hotly into the greenhouse and it grows—
it grows.

She's a furnace.  Snow melts at her feet,
the buried daisies stir,
stand close to her and feel the heat radiating
from the fire of her goddess-stomach.    

Her swollen feet blossom from an old earth.
They sing to her, the stones,
to the serpents twining,
to the moon-rabbits kicking in the meadows,
and she glows.

She cruises by, a juggernaut,
parting the seas
her hips sway to the ghost of hymns
sung on the banks of the Euphrates.

She carries a dynasty with her;
her skin strains over a family—
three hearts, six kidneys.
Spring draws near, and the first cries with it.

For more information contact Cliff Fell on 04-463 5815 or visit the Schools Poetry website.


Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Communications & Marketing. Kristina Keogh, Assistant Communications Adviser, can be contacted by emailing  or phoning (04) 463 5163 or 027 563 5163

Victoria University of Wellington: Capital thinking. Globally minded.

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Anna Smaill's debut novel longlisted for Man Booker Prize

31 July 2015

Anna Smaill's first novel The Chimes (Sceptre, 2015) has been selected for the Man Booker Prize longlist.

Read the full longlist.

Smaill, a poet, novelist and musician, graduated from Victoria's MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2001. Her first collection of poetry, The Violinist in Spring, was published by Victoria University Press in 2005.

The Chimes is set in an alternative, medieval-style London where the written word has been banned and life is orchestrated by a vast musical instrument that renders people incapable of forming new memories.

The novel made both the Independent on Sunday and Huffington Post's 'One to Watch' lists for 2015. The Guardian called it 'an engrossing piece of dystopian writing...fresh and original' and it was flagged by the Independent as a contender for 'the novel of 2015.'

Local reviews have been equally enthusiastic, with the New Zealand Herald describing The Chimes as 'a dazzling debut piece of fantasy that marries great writing with compelling narrative'.

The shortlist will be made public on September 15 and the winner will be announced on October 13 in a ceremony at London's Guildhall.

Fellow MA in Creative Writing graduate Eleanor Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries.  Lloyd Jones' Mr Pip was shortlisted in 2007, while Kerri Hulme was the first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize for The Bone People in 1985.

Smaill will be our guest at a Writers on Mondays session on 3 August, alongside fellow novelist and current Victoria Writer in Residence Tim Corballis, in a session chaired by Emily Perkins.


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Writers on Mondays 2015: questions of travel, life and love, answers from the imagination

7 July 2015

Writers on Mondays 2015 brings together a line-up of exciting new and established talents to showcase what's happening in the world of writing.

Headlining Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) 2015 season is award-winning Australian author Michelle de Kretser.

Director of the IIML Professor Damien Wilkins says the combination of new voices and established writers as part of Writers on Mondays is wonderful.

'This series is a brilliant fixture on the literary calendar.'

The Writers on Mondays programme runs from 13 July to 28 September. Sessions are from 12.15–1.15pm at Te Papa, in Te Marae, Level 4, Te Papa. The scriptwriting events will be held at Circa Theatre.

The programme kicks off in style with Poet Laureate Vincent O'Sullivan in conversation with Fergus Barrowman about O'Sullivan's recent publication Being There: Selected Poems, which spans his illustrious career and includes brand new work.

The following Monday two debut poets, Morgan Bach and John Dennison, and seasoned professional David Beach, discuss their new collections with poet Cliff Fell.

On 27 July Rachel Barrowman, in conversation with Bill Manhire, talks about one of New Zealand's best loved authors who is the subject of her new biography Maurice Gee: Life and Works.

Next, Anna Smaill—whose debut novel The Chimes has been acclaimed as a work of 'incredible imagination'—appears alongside Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence Tim Corballis, whose hot-off-the-press book R.H.I. marks a welcome addition to the novella form.

The next week draws out visual pleasures as artist John Reynolds and designer and author Sarah Laing discuss their illustrations in two recent Te Papa Press publications.

Earthquakes and endurance are tested in Hamish Clayton's eagerly awaited The Pale North and David Coventry's first novel The Invisible Mile, in a session chaired by Harry Ricketts.

August wouldn't be the same without National Poetry Day (August 28). Writers on Mondays starts the celebrations early with the annual Best New Zealand Poems reading on 24 August. Professor Damien Wilkins will MC this lively session.

The next week welcomes another of Aotearoa's seminal writers: Witi Ihimaera, in conversation with author Tina Makereti.

And September shines with an international guest. The IIML is delighted to present Michelle de Kretser, whose recent novel Questions of Travel won the Miles Franklin Award and the Australian Prime Minister's Award for fiction. This session is chaired by Emily Perkins.

View and download the full 2015 Writers on Mondays programme from the IIML website. Admission is free and all are welcome. See the programme for details of time and venue for individual sessions.

Writers on Mondays is presented by Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and additional support from Circa Theatre. Michelle de Kretser's visit is funded by the IIML.

For more information contact Therese Lloyd on or

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A Boost for young poets

26 June 2015

Aspiring young writers from secondary schools around New Zealand will be encouraged to explore their poetry writing skills, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign run by Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML).

The IIML launched the Boosted crowdfunding campaign earlier this year to reinstate the National Schools Poetry Award, which was established by former IIML director Emeritus Professor Bill Manhire in 2003 but was cancelled last year because of a lack of funding.

Current IIML Director Professor Damien Wilkins says the opportunity to take part in an award like this can be a life changing experience for many young New Zealanders.

Student entries in the competition will be judged by leading writers and poets. Ten shortlisted poets will then be brought to Wellington to experience a weekend of workshops with established poets and writers. Winning poems will be displayed on posters around the country and the young writers will become ambassadors for creativity when they return to their schools.

'The chance to meet and learn from experienced and well known poets and writers can help young people see that being a writer is a real possibility,' says Professor Wilkins.

The campaign has raised over $20,000 from members of the public, including well known writers and poets, and reached its target on the final day thanks to two large donations from companies in the creative industries.

Leading visual effects company Weta Digital and advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, have both contributed to the campaign because they see the benefits of nurturing New Zealand's future creative talent. These donations will be added to generous support from Creative New Zealand, which the IIML had already secured to launch the Poetry Award.
'We’re delighted that such creative companies as Weta Digital and Ogilvy & Mather are supporting New Zealand’s young writing talent and we’d like to thank everyone who donated,' says Professor Wilkins.

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Hinemoana Baker to take up Berlin Writer's Residency

22 June 2015

Hinemoana Baker (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa) has been awarded the 2015-16 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer's Residency.

Ms Baker is a writer, musician and teacher of creative writing and was the 2014 Victoria University of Wellington / Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence. In 2015 she will convene the IIML's CREW 253 Poetry Workshop and co-convene CREW 256 Special Topic: Māori and Pasifika Creative Writing Workshop with Tina Makereti.

The Berlin Writer's Residency, which alternates with the biennial CNZ Berlin Visual Artist's Residency, offers a stipend of $40,000 and the use of the CNZ apartment in the heart of Berlin, enabling the recipient to live in the city for up to eleven months, working on an approved project. Travel expenses are also covered.

Ms Baker, whose whakapapa includes Bavarian ancestry on her mother's side, plans to work on a new poetry collection, learn German, and travel to poetry events in Poland and Belarus. 'I am thrilled to have the opportunity to focus solely on the writing of poetry for such a solid block of time', she says. Hear more from Hinemoana Baker on the residency and her current projects (Dominion Post interview with Bess Manson, 20 June 2015).

CNZ's Chief Executive, Stephen Wainwright says the Berlin Residency 'has enabled some of our finest writers to experience the culture of this inspirational city and develop their work in a new environment. A further benefit is that it helps build awareness of New Zealand literature in Berlin.' Read the full CNZ media release.

Victoria's current Writer in Residence Tim Corballis is among the previous recipients of the residency.

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Writers on Mondays 2015 programme announced

9 June 2015

Writers on Mondays is an annual series of public readings and events showcasing local writers and international guests.

The 2015 programme features Poet Laureate Vincent O'Sullivan in conversation with Fergus Barrowman, and Witi Ihimaera in conversation with Tina Makereti, alongside sessions with emerging and established writers - and artists - including many graduates of Victoria's Creative Writing programme.

We are also delighted to host the Miles Franklin Award-winning Australian novelist Michelle de Kretser, who will be chaired by Emily Perkins.

Our annual Best New Zealand Poems reading will be an early celebration of National Poetry Day and, as always, Writers on Mondays provides an opportunity to hear new work by Page and Scriptwriting students from this year's MA in Creative Writing.

Read or download the full Writers on Mondays programme here.

Writers on Mondays is presented by Victoria's International Institute of Modern letters, in partnership with The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, National Poetry Day and Circa Theatre.

Events take place on Mondays at lunchtime on The Marae, Level 4, Te Papa, with the exception of the Short Sharp Script events, which will be held at Circa Theatre. Full details are in the programeme.


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Emily Perkins takes on A Doll's House

5 May 2015

Acclaimed fiction writer and IIML Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Emily Perkins has branched out into playwriting with an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's classic A Doll's House, which reviewers are describing as 'visceral', 'compelling' and 'wonderfully assured'.

Auckland Theatre Company's Artistic Director Colin McColl and Literary Unit Director Philippa Campbell approached Perkins in 2013 with an invitation to modernise the play, which debuted in Copenhagen in 1879. Its portrayal of the unravelling of a seemingly happy marriage caused an uproar at the time and remains confronting today.

'A Doll's House is famous for questioning the social straitjackets we find ourselves in, exploring the nature of responsibility and free will, and the tension between the individual and her community, autonomy and safety.' Perkins comments. 'It's often described as a feminist play...and as with all things feminist, it is humanist as well.' Read more.

New Zealand Herald reviewer Janet McAllister describes Perkin's contemporary re-imagining as 'a wonderfully assured, loose adaptation filled with sharp observations about a contemporary tribe.' Read more.

Heidi North-Bailey, writing for Theatreview says the adaptation 'goes right to the play's heart to tease out the themes that most shock [a contemporary audience].' Read more.

In an interview with the NZ Herald's Dionne Christian before the play opened, Perkins acknowledged  that audiences may come to such a well-loved play 'with certain expectations. But it would be very dull to not take on a piece of work because you were protecting yourself from risks.' Read more.

A Doll's House is directed by Colin McColl and stars Laurel Devenie and Damien Avery. It is on at Auckland's Maidment Theatre until 23 May. Read more or book tickets.


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MA in Creative Writing graduates on Sarah Broom Poetry Prize shortlist

1 May 2015

Three finalists have have been announced for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2015. They are Wellington-based poet Diana Bridge, and MA in Creative Writing graduates Alice Miller and Ashleigh Young.

The shortlist was chosen by the 2015 guest judge, Irish poet Vona Groarke, who will visit Wellington in May as a guest of the IIML: holding a masterclass with MA students and appearing at a poetry reading, in conversation with Cliff Fell.

Alice Miller is a poet, playwright, essayist and fiction writer, who is based in Vienna. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria (2005) and an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Glenn Schaeffer Fellow. Other awards include the Royal Society of New Zealand's Manhire Prize, the BNZP Katherine Mansfield Premier Award for fiction, and a CNZ Louis Johnson Bursary. In 2014 she was Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow, a Visiting Writer at Massey University, and a resident at the Michael King Centre. Her first full collection of poetry, The Limits, was published simultaneously by Shearsman and Auckland University Press in 2014.

Vona Groarke writes: 'The "I" and "We" of Alice Miller's poetry are rarely familiar and never predictable. The same is true of her poems, which are fully-charged and teem with surprises of imagery, narrative and language. Nothing moves in a straight line in this work: instead, the poems tend to turn on small pockets of beguiling mystery. Characters emerge out of an apparent nowhere and do the darndest things before they slip off again, as if in secret, out of the sightline of the poem. It all makes for an intense and intensely involving experience: the lines are so well managed and the narrative so deftly and subtly manoeuvred as to leave one ruffled, but pleasantly so. What might seem like aphorism turns out to be a strange and complicated proposition, as in "Saving" where, "some of the moments we cling to most / are the futures we never let happen". This is work that turns on a sixpence, and that manages each of its fascinating turns with assurance and aplomb.'

Ashleigh Young is a Wellington-based poet, essayist and editor, who graduated from the MA programme in 2009. Her first poetry collection, Magnificent Moon was published by Victoria University Press in 2012 and recent work appears in Sport, The Griffith Review, Five Dials, and Tell You What. She co-teaches a workshop in science writing at the IIML with science writer Rebecca Priestley, and she blogs, mostly about cycling, at

Vona Groarke writes: 'Ashleigh Young's poems defy their tight spaces to offer expansive and resonant narratives. Hers is a poetic world that derives great charge and vigour from proper nouns – named people and places – and specific, beautifully delineated detail that, as in flash fiction, sparks an entire world to life. People talk to each other in these poems, and whole lives get encapsulated in the kind of language that is as exact as it is vivid, as careful as it concise. Take for instance, "Electrolarynx" with its arresting line: "Then our silence made a condemned building of us all", or the opening of "Become road": "When the car stops we are beginning already to become road". These are poems that begin with the familiar, and then carefully walk it to the edges of perception, where it catches the light in arresting, singular and finely memorable ways.'

The three finalists will read in a free session at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 17 May. Vona Groarke will announce the winner at this event.

The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize aims to make a substantial ongoing contribution to supporting poetry in New Zealand. The value of the prize is $12,000 in 2015. Entries were received from almost 200 New Zealand poets - both emerging and established.

'The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize is about celebrating poetry,' says judging panel member Sarah Ross. 'The diversity of the entries received, and the tonal and formal complexity of the best work, its deftness, its moments of insight, poignancy, and humour – all of this has made the judging process enormously rewarding. So too has working with the generous and perceptive Vona Groarke.'

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Reviving poetry award for young New Zealanders

14 April 2015

Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) is aiming to revive New Zealand's only national poetry competition for high school students through crowdfunding.

The National Schools Poetry Award was established by former IIML director Emeritus Professor Bill Manhire in 2003 and over 300 young poets from across the country entered the competition each year until it was cancelled in 2014.

That decision resulted from a lack of funding to run the competition. The IIML wants to revive the award and has established a fundraising campaign which has already attracted support from Creative New Zealand.

The IIML's goal is to raise $18,000 over the next two months via Boosted, a crowdfunding website which aims to remove barriers between artists and those who choose to fund them.

Professor Damien Wilkins, Director of the IIML, says the competition is about much more than a winning poem—he says English teachers use the Award as a way of generating excitement around creative writing

Ten shortlisted secondary school poets come to Wellington for a weekend of workshops, hosted by the IIML, with some of New Zealand's best known poets. When they return to their schools, says Professor Wilkins, they become ambassadors for creativity.

'With the public's help we can deliver a full Award, including running the workshops which are a vital part of the experience and of promoting poetry throughout our high schools.'

Previous shortlisted poets have gone on to study creative writing at tertiary level, won other national writing prizes for emerging writers and  been published in national magazines and literary journals.

2013 runner-up Ruby Solly from Western Heights High School in Rotorua describes the workshop as a highlight of the year. 'I became very committed to writing as I had been given a taste of what it was like to be with other writers and to see what kind of course or occupation I could end up in as a poet.

'The workshop showed me various ways of both "sparking creativity" and refining my work to make it the best that it could be.'

To donate to the Boosted fund for the National Schools Poetry Award, visit the Boosted website.

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Best New Zealand Poems 2014 surveys the terrain of New Zealand poetry

1 April 2015

Launched today, Best New Zealand Poems 2014, published by Victoria University of Wellington's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), brings together 25 poems rich with place and locality, selected by New Zealand's Poet Laureate Vincent O'Sullivan.

The diverse collection of poems attests to the strength of voices both long established and new—featuring work by poet Kevin Ireland whose first book came out more than fifty years ago, and Victoria Master of Arts 2013 graduate Claire Orchard who is yet to publish a book.

Before O'Sullivan was given the task of reading all new poems published in New Zealand throughout 2014, he joked that there were now more publishing poets in New Zealand than commissioned officers in our armed forces.

That was before he was charged with finding 25 poems that 'give you some notion of the terrain' of New Zealand poetry.

O'Sullivan was drawn to the selected poems for many different reasons.

'Some for the tonal leaps and linguistic charge, others for their intellectual drive and focus or their pitch and inflection that will not come to you in quite that way from any other poet.'

Place and locality strongly anchor many poems in the new collection. A poem by UK–New Zealand poet Peter Bland zooms in on particulars within walking distance of Dominion Road in Auckland; a poem by Auckland's Michele Leggott reverberates with the human and animal noises that belong to Northland; while Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke catalogues some of the 'things that cluster/to form a town' in a poem about life as a high-school student in small-town Southland.

Other poems in the collection go further afield: a poem by Dinah Hawken about rising sea levels spans from her home by the Tasman Sea across the Pacific to Santiago via Tuvalu, while Christchurch poet Kerrin P. Sharpe transports readers in both time and place to the Western Front—as seen by the war horse, rather than the soldier. American-based New Zealand poet Michael Jackson's poem wanders the coastline of Key West, Florida.

The appearance of Best New Zealand Poems 2014 coincides with the publication of a new book by O'Sullivan: Being Here: Selected Poems. His collection Us, Then won the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry.

Series editor, poet and IIML senior lecturer Chris Price, says New Zealand today is favoured with an abundance of good poets.

'This is indicated both by the quantity of poems published in 2014 and, more importantly, the quality.'

Readers are also able to enjoy listening to audio recordings of several poems. Hawke's Bay poet Marty Smith—winner of the Jesse Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards—can be heard reading her poem, as can Otago poet Peter Olds and Wellington poet John Dennison, among others.

Best New Zealand Poems is published annually by the IIML with the support of Creative New Zealand, and hosted by the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection at Victoria University.

Best New Zealand Poems 2014 can be viewed at

For more information contact Damien Wilkins


Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Communications & Marketing. Kristina Keogh, Assistant Communications Adviser, can be contacted by email  or by phoning (04) 463 5163 or 027 563 5163

Victoria University of Wellington: Capital thinking. Globally minded.

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Award-winning author Mal Peet has died

4 March 2015

Image of author Mal Peet

We are very sad to learn of the death of the wonderful English author Mal Peet on 2 March 2015. Mal wrote five novels for young adults: the popular Faustino trilogy, set in the world of South American football, the WWII novel Tamar, and Life: An Exploded Diagram. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honours including the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. He also co-authored educational and picture books with his wife and writing partner Elspeth Graham, and was a gifted illustrator. His first novel for adults, The Murdstone Trilogy, published in 2014, was described in the Guardian as 'an assured, even virtuouso, performance' and 'a genuinely funny comedy...with a Pratchettian mix of gusto and warmth.'

Despite being primarily known as a YA author, Mal's books defied easy categorisation. Susan Tranter described his writing as 'notable for its refusal to submit to categories...His books...prove that successful literature for young readers doesn't have to be didactic, or have overtly youthful themes, or even centre on young characters. It is the quality of the writing which is, ultimately, the most important thing.' Mal himself commented that he was 'deeply averse to categorising novels in terms of the presumed age of readership...My core beliefs are that these young readers are not necessarily or exclusively interested in books about people like themselves; and that they deserve writing of the highest quality.'

The IIML was privileged to have Mal and Elspeth as our guests in 2013, when Mal convened a popular workshop on Writing for Young Adults. The IIML's Director Damien Wilkins says: ‘We knew Mal was a terrific and acclaimed novelist but he was also a gifted teacher who quickly became an important mentor for a number of New Zealand writers. He threw himself into the world of children's books here, made many friends, told great stories, and communicated huge warmth and mischievous intelligence. He's a great loss.'

Mal was diagnosed with cancer late last year. Since his death was announced, tributes have poured in from fellow children's and YA authors such as Patrick Ness, John Green and Michael Rosen, from emerging writers and from readers around the world. Friend and author Meg Rosoff said: 'Nobody wrote like Mal. His humour was leavened with blackness, his gimlet eye with kindness, his substantial talent with modesty.'

Along with praise for his literary abilities, many have noted his generosity to others in the writing community; especially to those at the beginning of their careers. As his agent Peter Cox commented, Mal was 'universally adored and admired by other writers. His talent was as prodigious as his warm, wide-open heart.'

The staff at the IIML mourn the death of a friend and a great and generous writer. Our thoughts are with his family.

Read more tributes to Mal Peet on his homepage and in the Guardian

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