International Institute of Modern Letters

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The International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) launched New Zealand's first PhD creative writing programme in 2008.

The writers who have joined the programme are working on a wide range of topics, and their supervisors come from an equally wide range of academic departments. While primary supervisors are usually staff from the IIML, co/secondary supervisors have come from Schools as diverse as Architecture, Art History, Gender and Women's Studies, the Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, the English and Theatre programmes of SEFTMS, and Te Kawa a Māui / Māori Studies.

Regular group meetings provide a forum for PhD students (and their supervisors) to discuss their work in progress and take turns to present aspects of it in an informal and supportive atmosphere.

The descriptions below reflect the students' thinking at the time they contributed. However, we attempt to update these from time to time, to reflect the progress of each project.

You can read about previous students' projects on our PhD Graduates page. You can also read about some of our MA graduates on our MA Graduate Showcase page.

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Angela Andrews (commenced 2011)

Angela Andrews is investigating the relationship between medicine and poetry. Having previously trained as a doctor, she graduated with an MA from the IIML in 2005. Her first book, Echolocation , was published by Victoria University Press in 2007. Her poems have appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Sport and Landfall.

Angela's project examines the clinical encounter—the meeting between doctor and patient—through a hybrid thesis combining the forms of poetry and essays. Her poems approach the clinical encounter from the perspectives of a patient, family member, medical student, and doctor. The essays situate the poems within the broader academic literature concerning the philosophy of the clinical encounter.

The discipline known as 'medical humanities' has undergone considerable growth over the last few decades. Humanities subjects have been incorporated into undergraduate medical curricula of many universities, including the two medical schools in New Zealand. Worldwide, there is substantial interest in what poetry might offer the practice of medicine. By using poems as a constituent part of the thesis, Angela aims to explore poetry itself as a mode of thinking, considering the ways in which such an approach can deepen our understanding of medicine.

Angela writes: 'I started my MA pretty much straight from a clinical job in the hospital. It was a vastly different way of seeing the world, compared to what I'd learnt at medical school. Ever since then, I've been thinking about the contrast, and complementarity, of the two schools I've attended at university. I'm interested in how that relationship might be relevant to medical practice.'

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Valerie Arvidson (commenced 2015)

Valerie Marie Arvidson is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and hybrid/interdisciplinary writing. She is originally from Massachusetts but lived in Seattle for several years before moving to New Zealand with her husband. Valerie earned her B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College (2008) and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington (2012). In Seattle she taught literature and research writing at Green River College and creative writing and composition at the University of Washington. Her writing has appeared online or in print with Drunken Boat, The Seattle Review, Blunderbuss, Anomalous Press, Hunger Mountain, and Apt.

Valerie writes: 'My dissertation will include a creative and critical exploration of how narrative, memory, history/ancestry, fiction/autobiography, folklore, fairy tales, and photographs interact and intersect in hybrid/interdisciplinary literature.

'I will analyse the archival impulse, (the desire to utilize and make connections between photographs, drawings, letters, historical documents, other media/texts, etc.), in fiction and hybrid literatures. Art critic Hal Foster describes archival art "as found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private" (p. 5, "An Archival Impulse").

'I am also interested in the use of autobiographical material in contemporary fiction and how authors construct identities, (the self and/or fictionalized characters), in literature through blended multimedia narratives. Some interesting examples of interdisciplinary or hybrid literature that utilize photographs, images, or archives include work ranging from the surrealists to postmodern writers, such as books by Andre Breton and W.G. Sebald, Carole Maso, Blake Butler, Kathleen Hill, and Jonathan Safran Foer, to name a few. Critical and theoretical work by John Berger, Roland Barthes, Helene Cixous, Marianne Hirsch, and Jacques Derrida, may inform and provide lenses for my research.'

Relevant Links

'Fragmentary Blue' (Drunken Boat)

'Sisters' (Blunderbuss Magazine)

'Possessions' (The Seattle Review)

'Here, There' (Anomalous Press)

'Remnants' Apt (Aforementioned Productions)

'Birds Have Eyes' (Hunger Mountain)

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Airini Beautrais (commenced 2013)

Airini is the author of three collections of poetry;Secret Heart (2006), Western Line (2011), and Dear Neil Roberts (2014), all published by Victoria University Press. Secret Heart won the NZSA Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry at the 2007 New Zealand Book Awards. Airini's poetry and short fiction has appeared in a range of print and online journals.

The book-length poem, Dear Neil Roberts, takes the form of a personal address to a young punk anarchist who deliberately blew himself up outside the Whanganui Police Computer centre in 1982. It is also an exploration of local histories and the ways in which they can be remembered, told, and connected with.

The experience of writing this poem led Airini to consider the challenges involved in the form of the long poem, including the structuring of a narrative, the uses of verse forms, and the ways in which historical and/or political material can be presented. Airini's PhD project has been designed with the further exploration of these issues in mind.

The critical component focuses on the contemporary long poem in New Zealand and Australia. Case studies of book-length poems by six writers working during the last 25 years explore the question: what possibilities are offered by verse form, that distinguish poetry from other narrative media? Specifically, this thesis will consider how segmentive aspects of verse form, including sections within a book, poems within a sequence, line breaks, stanzas, and meter, affect the narrativity of a text, and the narrative(s) therein. The notion of segmentivity as poetry's characterising feature was developed by Rachel Blau du Plessis in her 1995 essay 'Manifests'.

Airini's creative project is a series of long poems drawing on histories of the Whanganui river region, with a focus on social and environmental issues. The poems will bear in mind a human geography, considering the complexities of interactions with the natural environment, and the effects of economic processes on individual lives.

Relevant links:

Victoria University Press author page

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Peter Cox (commenced 2014)

Peter completed his MA in 2002 at the IIML with his TV series project The Insider's Guide to Happiness, which went on to be produced by Gibson Group and screened on TV2, picking up six awards at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards, including best drama series.  Since then, the TV series' Peter has created and/or developed have won more than 30 NZ Film and TV awards, and have been distributed in Australia, Canada, the UK, Asia and Europe, with format rights being sold in countries as diverse as Russia and the US. He has also been the recipient of the Buddle-Findlay Sargeson Writer's Fellowship, and won best new NZ Playwright at the Wellington Chapman Tripp theatre awards.

Peter writes: 'The creative side of my PHD focuses on two different television series ideas: one is somewhat of a drama; one is somewhat of a comedy. The critical side of my PHD focuses on the function of television "writer's rooms" – particularly in light of the increasingly popular "auteur" view of the US "quality cable" TV series creator/showrunner. How have the conditions of "niche" cable television programming given rise to the concept of the showrunner/auteur? How does this new auteur theory of television authorship mesh with the necessarily collaborative nature of TV serial writing? How does the practical "on the ground" functioning of writer's rooms reflect the authorship of the creator/showrunner?'

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Amy Leigh Wicks (commenced 2015)

Amy Leigh is a poet from New York City.  She holds her MFA in poetry from The New School (2014) and her B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from the The King's College (2009).  She is the author of Orange Juice and Rooftops (Eloquent Press, 2009) and a few chapbooks, and her poems have appeared on The Best American Poetry blog. She served as a poetry editor for NYSAI Literary Magazine and writing instructor before moving to Wellington with her husband to undertake her PhD at IIML.

Amy Leigh writes: 'In James K. Baxter (Oxford University Press, 1977), Vincent O'Sullivan wrote that Baxter's verse 'is the most complete delineation yet of a New Zealand mind. The poetic record of its shaping is as original an act as anything we have.' For the critical component of this dissertation I will focus on the life and work of James Keir Baxter as a national figure, or as he has been called, 'the people's prophet' of New Zealand. Placing Baxter's life in the context of New Zealand history, I will explore personal narrative, landscape, and expressions of national identity for Māori and Pakeha people in order to better understand what set him apart and continues to make him a household name and an international icon.

'The creative component will be a collection of poetry focused on landscape, personal narrative and national identity as an expatriate in New Zealand.  Poetic forms will be employed to contrast the mystery and variables of landscape and culture. As the subject material becomes more familiar, the forms will vary to sustain the contrast. I might begin with a sestina if the first walk home from the library is full of wrong turns, strange birds, white clouds, and homesickness.  Six months later when that walk has morphed into a familiar route, a free-form poem would allow intimate impulsive reflection on a few tui taking flight just as someone wearing my mother's perfume passes by me on Salamanca Road.'

Poem, podcast, performance links:

The Best American Poetry


great weather for media

The Curator


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Allan Drew (commenced 2014)

Allan originally studied science, obtaining his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. He subsequently worked in medical research and later in medical publishing. Allan changed direction in 2006, and studied English and creative writing at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, before obtaining his Master of Creative Writing in 2012 from the University of Auckland. His poems and short stories have been published in Poetry NZ, Ingenio, Hue & Cry, Takahe, Bravado, REM Magazine, Blackmail Press, and JAAM. Allan won the inaugural Ingenio Short Story Competition in 2012, and was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2013.

Allan's creative project aims to fictionalise John Milton's life after the Restoration in 17th Century England, during which time Milton completed and published Paradise Lost. This proposal was originally inspired by a love for Milton's epic and a desire to understand how such a work can be written. Allan has also become interested in determining the ability of fiction to help us understand and interpret genius – using Milton as a model for genius.

Allan's critical work will focus on Milton's characterisations in Paradise Lost, and how the characterisations were performed from within the 'negative space' provided by the original biblical narrative. Lucy Hutchinson's Order and Disorder, another long poem from the same period that retells the narrative of Genesis, will serve as a comparison text. Particular attention will be given to the application of speech-act theory and the concept of performative utterances to the process and outcomes of characterisation in the two poems.

Read more:

Allan Drew's website

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Kate Duignan (commenced 2013)

Kate is a novelist and short story writer based in Aro Valley.  After completing the MA in Creative Writing in 2000, her novel Breakwater (2001) was published by Victoria University Press.  She has published in Landfall and Sport, and been anthologised in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (2009) and the Anthology of New Zealand Literature (2012).  Kate held the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University in 2004.  She taught short fiction workshops at the IIML from 2010-2013 and continues to supervise for the MA programme while working on her PhD.

Kate writes: 'My creative project is a novel narrated in the first person.  My critical project takes this narrative mode as a starting point.  I want to research contemporary novels which have a single first-person narration, particularly novels where the reader is locked inside the subjectivity and language of the protaganist-narrator as he or she wanders through the geography and time of the novel.  W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz and Vertigo, Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy and Teju Cole's Open City are influential works (although these are not the ones I propose to study).  I'm interested in the history of the wandering first-person narrator in the novel, particularly when that narrator is figured as romantic wanderer, urban flaneur, pilgrim or tourist.  I'm interested in the identifications the reader may be invited to make between author and character in novels where a first-person narrator with characteristics close to the author is deployed.  I'm particularly interested in novels by women which use a first person male protaganist-narrator.  I want to investigate what effects such novelists are trying to achieve by using this narrative strategy.'

Relevant links:

Victoria University Press author page

New Zealand Book Council writer file

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Gigi Fenster (commenced 2013)

Gigi Fenster’s first novel, The Intentions Book, was published by Victoria University Press in 2012 and shortlisted in the Fiction categorgy of the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. She has published short stories in various literary journals, both in New Zealand and abroad. She has a masters in creative writing from Victoria University and various law degrees. She was the 2012 recipient of the Todd New Writers' Bursary.

Gigi writes: 'In my PhD, I am exploring the theme of fever, as it is portrayed in literature and viewed by writers. In particular I am interested in exploring works which were inspired by, or which describe, feverish dreams. My thesis will be a work of creative non-fiction which explores the implications of somebody wanting to induce a fever in themselves for creative ends. Creative and non-fiction elements will be used to interrogate the concerns which inducing a fever for creative ends might bring to the fore. What legal, ethical, medical, economic and philosophical issues might the self inducing of a fever raise? Are these issues different when the fever is being induced for creative reasons to when it is induced for medical or scientific research?'

Relevant links:

Victoria University Press author page

The Intentions Book: NZ Herald review

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Helen Heath (commenced 2012)

Helen Heath's debut collection of poetry Graft was published in 2012 by Victoria University Press. In 2013 it won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry in the New Zealand Post Book Awards, and was the first book of fiction or poetry to be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize.

Her poetry and essays have been published in many journals in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA. She won the inaugural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 for her poem ‘Making Tea in the Universe’. Her chapbook of poems Watching for Smoke was published by Seraph Press in 2009; the same year she completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria. She has been known to blog sporadically.

Helen's research project explores how science is represented in the work of post-war, contemporary poets writing in the 80s and 90s.

Helen writes: 'The domestication of technology has helped scientific concepts, imagery and vocabulary become part of our daily lives. Few people can explain the workings of a smart phone or computer, but these technologies are increasingly part of our everyday lives. In fact I would go so far as to say that we are all cyborgs now, in that we have incorporated technology not only into our lives but into our bodies. From hip replacements and pacemakers to computers as prosthetics, even plastic surgery and spectacles – we augment ourselves and merge with technology. This merging of humans with technology is the direction I am taking the creative component of my dissertation. I am writing a collection of poetry. I intend to write lyric poems although I am aiming to find some new forms for my work, possibly, in some instances, digital.'

Relevant Links:

Victoria University Press author page

Read some of Helen’s work online:

Turbine 11

4th Floor 12

Interlitq 16


4th Floor 11

Turbine 10

Turbine 09

Turbine 05

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Helen Innes (commenced 2016)

Profile to come

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Therese Lloyd (commenced 2013)

Therese's  poems have appeared in print and online publications including Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry, Jacket2, Metro, Turbine, and the AUP series New Zealand Poets in Performance.

In 2006 she completed the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria's IIML, and was awarded the Schaeffer Fellowship which enabled her to spend a year attending the acclaimed Iowa Writer's Workshop.

Her first full-length book of poetry, Other Animals , was published by Victoria University Press in 2013.

Therese writes: 'The aim of the critical component of my thesis is to examine the role of ekphrasis in Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson's writing. Ekphrasis—a genre of poetry commonly described as the "verbal representation of visual representation" — appears repeatedly throughout Carson's work, and I hope to demonstrate, via several key examples, how this form encapsulates not just Carson's fascination with the visual but how it is the ideal model to explain Carson's own methodology as a writer, scholar, and translator.

The creative component of my thesis will be a collection of poetry that includes both ekphrasis and "mock" translations of French symbolist poet, Stephane Mallarmé.'

Relevant links:

Victoria University Press author page

Read about Therese's experience of the MA in Creative Writing

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Monica Macansantos (commenced 2015)

Monica Macansantos holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She was born and raised in the Philippines, spent her early childhood in Delaware, USA, and earned her Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing, magna cum laude, from the University of the Philippines in 2007. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in The Masters Review, The Fictioneer, Five Quarterly, Your Impossible Voice, Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs, and TAYO, among others. Her short story, 'Stopover', earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Fiction Open and was featured in the University of Pittsburgh Writing Program's Longform Fiction. Her work has been recognized with residency fellowships from Hedgebrook in Washington State and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska. She is currently a fiction reader for Amherst College's The Common.

Monica writes: 'The creative component of my dissertation will be a novel set in the Marcos years in the Philippines. My novel-in-progress is about two brothers, Carlos and Gabriel, who become estranged during the early years of the Marcos regime. I turn the spotlight on the 'Martial Law Minors', or the generation of Filipinos who were too young to know what it was like before Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. I have taken an interest in the Martial Law Minor generation, particularly in how their understanding of history, as it was taught to them, altered the way in which they came to understand the importance of freedom and individual rights. Gabriel, Carlos's younger brother, is a member of this generation, and the novel is told from his point-of-view.

'The critical component of my dissertation remains a work in progress, but may deal with Filipino perspectives of America as a colonizer and liberating force in the Philippine Historical Novel. My key texts will be Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart, Edilberto K. Tiempo's To Be Free, Edith Tiempo's The Alien Corn, Wilfrido Nolledo's But for the Lovers, and Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado.'

Relevant Links:

'Stopover' (Five Quarterly)

Excerpt from 'Stopover' (Longform Fiction)

'The Day I Was a Comfort Woman' (Your Impossible Voice - audio recording)

'The Cup of Knowing' (Quarterly Literary Review Singapore)

The Masters Review 2012 , ed. Lauren Groff: 'The Feast of All Souls'

The Fictioneer : 'Maricel'

100 Filipina Poets

Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs : 'James'

Poems in TAYO Literary Magazine, issue 5

Essay in TAYO Literary Magazine, online edition, 31 May 2015: Becoming a writer - the silences we write against

'Love and other rituals' (Thin Noon)

'Into Lightness' (Shirley Magazine)

'Playing with Dolls' (available as e-book on Kindle - originally published in Day One literary journal)

Follow Monica on Twitter

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Alison McLachlan (commenced 2015)

Alison has a Bachelor of Arts in english and film from University of Auckland,  a BA (hons) from Victoria University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from the IIML. She was awarded the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in 2013 for her MA script – a television drama titled The Staceys.

Alison writes: 'For my project I will be looking at the relationship between chaos theory and TV narratives.

Chaos theory is the study of non-linear dynamics, which examines the idea that hidden within the unpredictability of chaotic systems are deep structures of order, and that hidden within structures of order are random and unpredictable systems. Complex systems often rely upon an underlying order and, in turn, very simple or small systems can be the cause of complex behaviours or events.

'I see parallels between chaos theory and TV narratives, in that a television series as a whole can be seen as a single and cohesive structure or frame that contains progressively smaller frames and structures – seasons, episodes, acts, and multiple plot-lines and character arcs that interweave, collide, and sometimes never meet or even end – all of which are then "reassembled" through the process of reception and interpretation.

'For my creative component I will be writing three separate TV series, each adhering to a central idea in chaos theory that the sensitive dependence of initial conditions are an inescapable consequence of the way small scales intertwine with large. [1] In each project I will place the "initial condition" at different points in the narratives so as to explore and emphasise the multitude of story-telling possibilities in television.'
[1] Gleick, J. Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable. London: Vintage, 1998

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Sue Orr (commenced 2013)

Sue Orr completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in 2006. Before starting the PhD in 2013, Sue Orr published two short story collections – Etiquette for a Dinner Party (Vintage, 2008) and From Under the Overcoat (Vintage, 2011). From Under the Overcoat was shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Awards 2012, and won the People's Choice Award. Her work has also been published in the NZ Listener, Sport, in various anthologies and has been broadcast on Radio New Zealand National.  Sue reviews for the Listener and also occasionally teaches creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland. In 2011 she was a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow.

Sue's creative component is a novel set in rural New Zealand in the 1970s. Titled The Party Line, it WAS published mid-candidature in 2015 by Vintage. The title refers to both the shared party lines of 1960s and 70s New Zealand (and the possibility of eavesdropping on them) and to the implications of crossing social  hierarchical party lines.   Her research component will examine eavesdropping in the adult fiction of Maurice Gee.

Relevant Links:

New Zealand Book Council Writer File

'Crossing the line': NZ Listener review of The Party Line

The Party Line reviewed on Radio New Zealand National

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Lena Tichy (commenced 2016)

Lena studied philosophy and English literature at the University of Berne, Switzerland, and then went to Ireland to study at the School of Social Justice at University College Dublin, where she earned an MSc. In Equality Studies in 2012. Between 2005 and 2015, she has worked as an editor and writer for various Swiss newspapers (print and online), while also writing nonfiction and fiction on the side. She has published her writing on the 100days project website in 2013 and 2014 and was part of the 100days exhibition at the Nathan Club in Auckland in 2013.

Lena writes: 'The creative part of my PhD will be a historical novel set in Switzerland at the end of the Second World War. The main focus of my book is a series of secret negotiations called "Operation Sunrise" that eventually led to the surrender of German troops in Northern Italy in May 1945. I'm especially interested in the figure of Allen Dulles (1893 – 1969), a U.S. diplomat and intelligence officer who would later become the first civilian director of the CIA.

'The world of intelligence services is a deeply homosocial one, which means it is mostly men working together and men making all the crucial decisions. For my critical dissertation, I am using research from the field of Critical Studies of Men and Masculinities to gain a deeper understanding of the different types of masculinity in intelligence work. Specifically, I want to look at how heterosexuality and homosexuality are portrayed in spy fiction, using Raewyn Connell's concept of "hegemonic masculinity" and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's concept of "homosociality" as analytical tools.

Relevant links:

100days project 2013: a collection of overheard conversations

100days project 2014: a Q&A-session with my 16-year-old self

Wild Wild Letters: an untamed dictionary