International guest writers


Each year the International Institute of Modern Letters invites leading international writers across a range of genres to teach masterclasses for current students of the MA in Creative Writing, and appear in public events in Wellington. A sample of previous international guests includes Guillermo Arriaga, Stephen Burt, Santo Cilauro, Teju Cole, Richard Ford, Jonathan Galassi, Janice Galloway,  Vona Groarke, Lee Gutkind, Jen Hadfield, Joy Harjo, Michael Hofmann, Michael Hulse, Michelle de Kretser, Ben Lewin, Kei Miller, Andrew Motion, Andrew O'Hagan, Mal Peet, Ron Rash, Mary Ruefle, Michael Schmidt, Robert Shearman, Karen Solie, Scarlett Thomas and Charlotte Wood.

2018 has been a bumper year for visitors. Our first guests were Indian journalist, poet and novelist Jeet Thayill and English author Francis Spufford; both in Wellington in March as guests of the New Zealand Festival. The American writer Terese Svoboda who was our guest in 2012, made a welcome return visit in May; followed in swift succession by the Samoan poet and novelist Sia Figiel, Michael Heyward of Australia's Text Publishing, Chilean writer Carlos Franz, and French novelist Amélie Lucas-Gary (a 2018 Randall Cottage Resident, hosted by Victoria's NZ Centre for Literary Translation). In June we were visited by US poet Devin Johnston.

Read about guest writers from previous years at the links below.

Jeet Thayil and Francis Spufford (March 2018)

We were very pleased to welcome Jeet and Francis for masterclasses with our MA students in the first week of the teaching year. Both writers were in Wellington as guests of the New Zealand Festival's Writers and Readers 2018.

Image of Jeet Thayil sourced from the New Zealand Festival website (photographer credit: Akanksha Sharr)

Jeet Thayil is a poet, novelist, librettist and musician. Born in India and educated in Bombay, Hong Kong and New York, he worked as a journalist for many years. He has published five collections of poetry including These Errors Are Correct, which won the India’s National Academy of Letters award in 2013.  His first Narcopolis (2012) was awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, among others. In 2012, he wrote the libretto for the opera, Babur in London, in collaboration with the composer Edward Rushton.

His second novel, The Book of Chocolate Saints, was published in late 2017.

Read more:

Notes on Jeet Thayil's masterclass (by MA 2018 student Andrei Seleznev)

British Council writer file (8 March 2018)

Jeet Thayil interviewed in The Guardian (9 February 2018)

The Book of Chocolate Saints reviewed (The Guardian, 4 March 2018)

Image of Francis Spufford sourced from New Zealand Festival website (photographer credit: Bart)

Francis Spufford is the author of numerous award-winning and eclectic books of non-fiction on subjects ranging from polar exploration and the effect of books on a child's character, to post-war British scientific achievements, the Soviet communist project, and why Christianity still matters. He has been longlisted or shortlisted for prizes in science writing, historical writing, political writing and theological writing. His first novel, the multi-awarding-winning Golden Hill (2016), was a work of historical fiction described as 'extraordinarily acccomplished', 'dazzling' and 'ingenious'. In 2007 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He teaches writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and lives near Cambridge.

His latest book, True Stories & Other Essays, is a career-spanning collection of book extracts, blog posts, journalism, book reviews, talks and speeches that include his thoughts on reading, technology, religion, the Soviet Union and Antarctica.

Read more:

Faber and Faber author page

Guardian interview (29 May 2016)

Golden Hill reviewed (The Washington Post, 14 July 2017)

True Stories and Other Essays reviewed (The Evening Standard, 19 October 2017)

Terese Svoboda (May 2018)

Terese Svoboda (photo credit: Joyce George)

Terese, who first visited our MA writers in 2012, made a welcome return for a full-day masterclass on 16 May.

Recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim, Terese is the author of highly-praised books including the biography Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (2016); Bohemian Girl, named one of the ten best 2012 Westerns by Booklist and an Historical Book of the Year Finalist in Foreword; and the memoir Black Glasses Like Clark Kent, which won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and The Japan Times 'Best of Asia 2008.' Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (2016); She is also the author of five books of prize-winning poetry and Cleaned The Crocodile's Teeth, translations from the Nuer, a South Sudanese language. Her opera Wet premiered at L.A.'s Disney Hall in 2005.

Terese's writing has appeared in many journals and publications, including the New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement and Paris Review. It has been selected for the 'Writer's Choice' column in The New York Times Book Review, a Spin Magazine book of the year, and one of the Voice Literary Supplement's ten best reads.

She has been awarded the Bobst Prize, the Iowa Prize for poetry, the O. Henry Award for the short story, and is a three-time winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. She has held a wide range of academic positions, and residencies at Bellagio, Bogliasco, Yaddo, MacDowell, the James Merrill House, and Ossabaw.

Read more:

The Rumpus interview (11 May 2016)

Anything That Burns reviewed (Northwest Review of Books, 9 April 2016)

poems online (Conjunctions, 23.1.18)

Terese Svoboda's website

Sia Figiel (May 2018)

Writer and artist Sia Figiel (photo sourced from Samoa Planet, 2017, with thanks)

Our postgraduate students had the welcome opportunity to hear from the Samoan novelist, poet and performance poet Sia Figiel, in New Zealand for the Auckland launch of her latest novel Freelove (2018 revised edition).

Sia is recognised as the first contemporary woman novelist from Samoa. Her novels have won praise for her use of traditional Samoan storytelling techniques. She has said of her writing, ‘Like every Samoan or Pacific Islander, I grew up on the Bible (parables) as well as fagogo/ myths/legends. I've always been intrigued however by legends, adding to it poetry (solo) and faleaitu (theatre). The imagery and music of the fagogo and the solo continues to shape and form the way I write in English.’*

She won the Polynesian Literary Competition for poetry in 1994 and her first novel, where we once belonged (1996) won the Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific region of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her other books include novels The Girl in the Moon Circle and They Who Do Not Grieve and the prose poetry collection To a Young Artist in Contemplation. Her works have been translated into French, German, Catalan, Danish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Portuguese.

She studied in New Zealand and the U.S. and has held numerous residencies in Europe and the South Pacific, including at the Institucio de les Lletres Catalanes in Barcelona, the University of Technology in Sydney, the East-West Center in Hawaii, the Pacific Writing Forum at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, and Logoipulotu College in Savaii. She was the first Pacific Islander to read at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and is also an artist who has exhibited in the U.S and Germany.

After an inspiring and warmly received morning of reading and conversation with the whole MA group, Sia met for a second session with current and recent Māori and Pasifika creative writing students, in which she encouraged them to be fearless and acknowledged that 'writing-when-indigenous' necessarily entails a conversation with sociopolitical histories and questions of identity.  Suggesting that when an indigenous person picks up a pen there is always an autobiographical truth to the meta narrative, she nevertheless refuted the notion (often proposed by reviewers) that her own stories are autobiographical, and emphasised that it's vital to 'honour the fiction'. Sia shared her latest work and discussed writing as 'the stitching together of stories, songs, vignettes', citing where we once belonged as a result of this process. While open about her own tendency to write transgressively, she was clear that this can be deeply internal and exhausting work, and cautioned the students to take care of themselves through the process.  And she challenged them to believe in themselves no matter what.

Read more:

Poetry Foundation listing

Penguin author page

Little Island: Freelove

Island Lives: The Writing of Sia Figiel (Samoa) and Celestine Hitiura Vaite (Tahiti), by Wendy E. Cowling (Junctures journal, 2009)*

Michael Heyward (May 2018)

Head Publisher of Text Michael Heyward. (Photo courtesy of Text Publishing.)

The head of Australia's independent powerhouse Text Publishing, Michael Heywood visited for a Q&A and discussion with MA students while in New Zealand to announce the inaugural winner of a new literary prize for New Zealand writers; Text's  Michael Gifkins Prize for an Unpublished Novel.

Text publishes a broad range of fiction and non-fiction, international and local, books for adults and young adults. Alongside the calibre of its authors, it has developed a well-earned reputation both for prescience in acquiring international rights and for successes in selling its books to the world. Just a taste of its author list includes Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, Tim Flannery, Elena Ferrante, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Elizabeth Harrower, Lloyd Jones, Thomas Keneally, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Kelly Link, Gerald Murnane, Philip Pullman, and Barack Obama.

It has been awarded the ABIA Small Publisher of the Year three times and won the inaugural Leading Edge Books Small Publisher of the Year in 2018. The company has been entirely Australian-owned since 2011.

Michael's highly enjoyable MA session took in his own path from a childhood love of books and reading, via early encounters with the world of publishing in the UK and his literary 'apprenticeship' on the much-loved literary magazine Scripsi (which he co-founded and ran for close to a decade) to Head Publisher and CEO of Text. Discussing the landscape of Australian publishing, he offered the view that there's never been a better time to be published in the southern hemisphere. And he gave some backstory to the 2017 establishment of the Gifkins Prize – honouring late New Zealand literary agent Michael Gifkins – as a publication and profile opportunity for New Zealand writers.

He discussed Text's approach to nurturing long partnerships with its writers; noting that the author / editor relationship is at the core of everything they do. He described this process as a long conversation, which takes 'the time it needs' and said that a first-time Text author won't be published before the book is ready, even if that means throwing out the schedule. On the editing process itself, he was passionate and engaging; describing the editor's work as surrendering to the voice emerging from the manuscript and helping the writer discover what's essential and immutable within it. And he offered revealing insights into the process; that the company doesn't assign costs against editorial time, for example, or that editorial discussion with a first-time author inevitably includes the second book (the seed of which, he believe, is 'always contained in book one').

Michael was generous in answers to questions covering everything from how Text's slush pile works, when a manuscript is really ready to be submitted, and the nitty gritty of how to query them, to how successfully New Zealand themes and content might translate to an Australian audience and beyond, and what a writer can salvage, and even learn, from rejection. A fascinating, insightful and encouraging session.

Read more:

Meet Michael Heyward - Text Publisher profile

Text Publishing Michael Gifkins Prize for an Unpublished Novel

Text Publishing celebrates 20 year milestone (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 2014)