International Institute of Modern Letters


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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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