On this page:
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 from 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.
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.'
Michalia Arathimos is a Greek-New Zealand writer. She has published short stories and poetry in several publications, including Best New Zealand Fiction Volume 4, Lost in Translation, Sport, Turbine, Metro, The New Zealand Listener, Blackmail Press, Otoliths and JAAM. She completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the IIML at Victoria University in 2006, and was the Writer in Residence at Robert Lord Cottage in 2008.
Michalia writes: 'The creative element of my PhD is comprised of a novel. Fracture is about two people who meet at an environmental meeting. The book is set at a pa that is threatened by an oil company’s exploratory drilling. From the outset the interests of local iwi and activists conflict with those of the oil seekers. In the midst of all the meetings things start going wrong at the drilling site and the community is accused of sabotage. The two main characters come under suspicion, and, after a violent demonstration, the police get involved. No one knows who’s doing the damage, and, as tensions rise and the very land under their feet starts to go bad, the campaign and the relationships within the group begin to come apart.
'My critical component examines the construction of "otherness", around authors as public, read figures. In contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand, stories by authors outside dominant Pakeha culture are actively celebrated. By examining the media’s reception of the first works of six New Zealand authors, Witi Ihimaera, Keri Hulme, Tusiata Avia, Karlo Mila, Kapka Kassabova, and Cliff Fell, I hope to better understand how we read "others," and how we read "ourselves." How much does the celebration of "otherness" re-enact and re-enforce cultural stereotypes? How exactly is status awarded, and who is it that is doing the awarding?'
Airini is the author of two collections of poetry, Secret Heart (Victoria University Press, 2006) and Western Line (VUP 2011). Secret Heart won the NZSA Jessie Mackay award for best first book of poetry at the 2007 NZ Book Awards. Airini's poetry and short fiction has appeared in a range of print and online journals.
Airini's PhD project will involve a critical component focussing on narrative poetry written in Australia and New Zealand within the last 25 years. Using a range of long narrative poems as case studies, her research will look at differing 'levels' of narrative and how poets combine and interact form and narrative, in order to tell a story. Airini's creative project is a series of poetic narratives of the Whanganui river region, with a focus on economic and environmental issues.
Victoria University Press author page
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 has taught short fiction workshops at the IIML for the past three years 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.'
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?'
The Intentions Book: NZ Herald review
David Fleming is a writer from Boston, Massachusetts. He holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop (2008), and his short stories have appeared in Mississippi Review and Chicago Quarterly Review.
David writes: 'The creative component of my PhD will be a novel about a family of fundamentalist Christians living in the western United States. I am interested in the increased prevalence of these "closed" groups in American society, and the ways that these groups reflect (and react against) the larger culture.
'My critical component is still in formation. Partly, I intend to research the ways authors have used God-and-Devil figures to reveal the conflict inherent in the development of individual identities within changing social contexts. Starting with Melville's Moby Dick, and proceeding to specific works by William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and others, I will discuss the ways that writers have framed their analysis of changing social contexts by creating figures that embody religious archetypes. What is gained in this process, both within the novel and as an element of craft? How has this pattern evolved in literature?'
Helen Heath’s debut collection of poetry Graft was published in May 2012 by Victoria University Press and won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Her poetry and essays have also been published in many journals in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the IIML in 2009. Helen’s chapbook of poems called Watching for Smoke was also published by Seraph Press in 2009. Helen 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 saying 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.'
Helen won the inaugural ScienceTeller Poetry Award in 2011 for her poem ‘Making Tea in the Universe’.
Read some of Helen’s work online:
Gavin McGibbon (commenced 2009)
Gavin writes: 'The subject of my thesis is the process of adaptation; I will be looking at the manner in which a scripted work needs to be altered in order to successfully move into a new medium such as from stage to screen. I will be exploring this by adapting my own work from theatre to film and vice versa with two different pieces, while also examining established works which have crossed the mediums.
'The differences between the two forms, the reasoning behind the changes and examination of how dialogue, location, character, scale and narrative - among numerous other factors - need to be considered and the method in which these operate differently for stage and screen will be detailed.
'Adaptation became very interesting to me when I had to heavily alter a stage play of mine "Stand Up Love" for radio; a process I found both thrilling and challenging. A lot has been written about adapting novels into films but the adaptation of works of theatre into film is generally overlooked, which is surprising considering the number of Oscar-winning or nominated films that originated on the stage.
'My background is in film, having graduated from both the New Zealand Film School and Waikato University where Film (along with History) was my double major for my BA. It was at Film School that I discovered my love of writing and began to write these little scripts with no idea where they would go.
'I was very fortunate to be accepted in 2005 into Ken Duncum's MA course in Scriptwriting at Victoria's International Institute of Modern Letters. It was here I discovered the amazing world of theatre. I began to dabble in play writing which I soon fell for in a major way. I'm thrilled to now be able to combine my two loves in such a unique way.
'To date I have had six plays produced: "After Service", "Stand Up Love", "Shipwrecked Beneath the Stars", "Handy Man", "Hamlet Dies at the End" (2011) - which I'm adapting for film - and "Holding On" which opened at BATS Theatre in August 2012. "Captive Truths" and "Stand Up Love" have also been produced as radio plays. My seventh play "Con" opens at Circa in October 2013.
'I mentored the EAT (Emerging Artist Trust) scriptwriting group for two and a half years. I have tutored Scriptwriting for The New Zealand Film School and taught Scriptwriting for both Victoria's Continuing Education department and in Honours for the Film/Theatre department.
'In 2014 I will convene the CREW 353 Writing for Theatre workshop at the IIML, in collaboration with the Theatre Department.'
Hannah is a scriptwriter and PhD candidate focussing her attentions on the New Zealand stage. The contextualizing critical component of Hannah's research has a working title of 'Keeping Mum, Performing Marriage and Growing Women' and shines a spotlight on the representations of women, and particularly mothers, depicted on stage in New Zealand between 1920 and 2012.
Alongside her research, Hannah is writing several full length plays that explore the changing representations of women and mothers within New Zealand’s theatre history.
Hannah graduated from the IIML's MA Programme in Scriptwriting in 2009. Her MA play, and arguably the start of her fascination with writing family drama, was entitled 'McKenzie Country'. 'McKenzie Country' was joint winner of the David Carson-Parker Embassy Prize in Scriptwriting for the best major project, received the Dominion Post Scholarship, was read as part of Writers on Mondays, shortlisted to the final four for Write Out Loud Wellington 2009 and recently received its stage premier at BATS Theatre in June 2011, produced by Hannah and mounted by her company of Page Left playwright producers.
Hannah's first theatre script after completing her MA was a second family drama entitled 'The Avon Lady', which made the shortlist for the Adam Play Award (for best NZ play) and was joint winner of Write Out Loud Wellington in 2010.
When Hannah's not at the IIML or in the theatre, she writes for a Government department and is involved with a great number of creative projects including short films and role playing events. Hannah has a passion for acting and the visual arts and often employs these skills on stage or around it though designing stage posters, flyers, and theatre programmes etc.
Hannah spent many of her formative years abroad but has always called New Zealand home. Alongside her love of language and literature Hannah has a passion for cricket, Rockabilly, classic Hollywood and 1950's Broadway. Above any genre, Hannah has an unswerving interest in people and their stories. Whether on stage or screen, what moves her most are credible characters and their incredible journeys which begin in the everyday.
Stephanie de Montalk is a former nurse, documentary filmmaker and member of the New Zealand Film and Literature Board of Review. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Victoria University, and is the author of six books: the memoir/biography, Unquiet World: The Life of Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk (Victoria University Press, 2001, also published in Polish translation by Jagiellonian University Press, Krakow, 2003); the historical novel/poetic narrative, The Fountain of Tears (VUP 2006); four collections of poetry, namely Animals Indoors (VUP, 2000, winner of the Best First Book of Poetry Award at the 2001 Montana New Zealand Book Awards), The Scientific Evidence of Dr Wang (VUP, 2002), Cover Stories (VUP, 2005) and Vivid Familiar (VUP, 2009). In 2005, she was the Victoria University Writer in Residence.
Stephanie writes: 'My PhD dissertation, How Does It Hurt?: Narrating Pain, aims to bring visibility and a measure of clarity to the state of being that is physical pain. In particular, it confronts the paradox of writing about personal pain, notwithstanding pain's resistance to verbal expression. The focus is chronic pain, which, despite advances in the science of pain and the alleviation of acute (temporary) pain, is little understood, poorly communicated, inadequately treated and, according to recent studies, silently reaching epidemic proportions.
'The work overlaps a study of my response to living with and writing about chronic pain since an accident in Warsaw in 2003 (the creative component) with consideration of pain's linguistic parameters and the ways in which three other writers have lived with and written about intractable pain (the critical research component). The thesis as a whole, thus, unfolds within a framework of my own personal story, and those of Polish poet and intellectual, Aleksander Wat (1900-1967), English novelist and social theorist, Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), and French novelist, Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), who believed that for victims of incurable pain, literature "is a solace and relief [...] a mirror and a guide"'.
Fountain of Tears reviewed for the North American Pushkin Society, 2012
Sue Orr has 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 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. It has a working title of The Party Line, referring to the shared telephone lines of that era. Her research component will examine eavesdropping and voyeurism in New Zealand writing, with particular reference to the work of Maurice Gee and one or two other authors.
Anna has a Bachelor of Arts in photography, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and art history from Auckland University. She has been writing since 1994 when she co-founded Monica, a magazine of art criticism with a focus on the in-depth review. Since then she has authored many companion texts for the work of 'visual' artists. From 1998 she lived and worked in Melbourne, Rotterdam and New York. She returned to New Zealand in 2004 and completed the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria the following year.
In 2006 Victoria University Press published her collection of essays, Brainpark. In November 2007 Anna was shortlisted for the 2008 Prize in Modern Letters, designed to acknowledge and advance the work of emerging writers in New Zealand. In the same year she was a recipient of the Arts Foundation's prestigious New Generation Award.
Excerpts from the research proposal, as of 23 May 2013, two months out from the end of the provisional first year, still speculative and, literally, full of question marks:
Working title: The visible and the invisible: ways of looking at economic form.
Anna writes: 'The "creative" piece will be a book length exploration of ways to conceive of and represent economics, centring around the question of "what it is" and attempting to answer related questions in terms that are not its own. It has some lines of enquiry, but in a substantial way doesn't know its subject at the outset, and moves towards it by means of an observational practice. My underlying question will be what kind of an organism is it? How does it move? What is its uniqueness, what are its energies? I’d like to undertake a contemplation of each place and its forms, as one would a form in nature.
The "critical" question will be: What implications does Henry Corbin's notion of the "imaginal world" have for a personal understanding of creative non-fiction? Could the critical work be a cross between a private manifesto about ordering the world and a reflective practice focusing on a single notion ("Mundus Imaginalis") and the relevance it may have for a working, personally inflected definition of creative non-fiction. Or, how can these ideas affect the question of "what is it?" that accompanies creative non-fiction. Or, how can this idea inform creative non-fiction's relationship to knowledge? I think of Agnes Martin and Christa Wolf. A record of digestion. It is a reflection on method. A meditation on the material world and on authoritative voice. It can sit as a background or preface to the "creative" work.
Because with so-called creative non-fiction, there is so little distinction between the critical and the creative, the process of creating two distinct projects named "critical" and "creative" has been like pouring water back and forth between two containers, the same basic pool of stuff, differently constituted each time.'
Originally from Chicago, Steven Toussaint came to New Zealand after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2010. His poems and other writing have appeared in numerous publications, including Court Green, The Cultural Society, Hue & Cry, Jacket2, SET, TYPO, and Web Conjunctions. He is also a regular contributor to the website Occasional Religion, an interdisciplinary forum for contemporary religious discourse. He operates a personal blog at to-forge-the-eye-is-a-mountain-in-the-empyrean.
Steven writes: 'The sense of (or sensibility for) music in poetry is both my fascination and my task. A literary artifact has no literal volume or pitch. But a poem need not be spoken, sung, or performed to have musicality: a poem’s sonic properties haunt the page, silently.
'Ezra Pound refers to this phenomenon as melopoeia, "wherein the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning." The central aim of my Ph.D. thesis is to explore how Pound’s dictum has been interpreted and internalized by succeeding generations of poets. Specifically, I hope to discover how structures in musical compositions have informed and continue to inform modern poetic practice. My particular interest lies with those poets who seek out musical exempla in order to revitalize poetic form, those whose experimentation leads them deep into the acoustic materiality of language. Approaching both individual poems and musical compositions from a broadly formalist perspective, I hope to analyze their respective periodic forms and structures in order to discover where and how musico-poetic convergence might be possible.
'One supporting assumption of my critical dissertation is that it is a practical study; that is, its findings, whatever the result, should be useful to practicing poets. After illustrating potential connections between compositional practices in the two art forms, I hope to perform my own melopoetic experiments. I am especially excited about the formal possibilities present in both medieval sacred music and contemporary minimalist and drone music, in which subtle variations in repetition and duration can produce such a wide range of effects, from continuity, ecstasy and meditation, to dislocation and doom.'
Links to Steven’s writing online:
The Cultural Society
SET ( 30MB .pdf document)