Distinguished New Zealand author and artist to receive honorary doctorate

Prolific writer and artist Gregory O'Brien will receive an honorary doctorate at a Victoria University of Wellington graduation ceremony in May.

Gregory O'Brien hosts a public lecture at Victoria as the 2015-16 Stout Memorial Fellow.
Gregory O'Brien hosts a public lecture at Victoria as the 2015-16 Stout Memorial Fellow.

Victoria University Chancellor Sir Neville Jordan says the honorary doctorate is an acknowledgement of Mr O’Brien’s ongoing contribution to, and celebration of, artistic life in New Zealand.

“Mr O’Brien has been part of New Zealand’s cultural scene for more than three decades. His contribution through writing, art, and curation has informed and engaged many New Zealanders.

“Victoria is proud to celebrate its connection with Gregory O’Brien and his inspiring work across the arts and humanities.”

Mr O’Brien’s profile as a writer and his capacity to move across literature, the visual arts and other disciplines have made a lasting impact at Victoria. He convened the International Institute of Modern Letters’ undergraduate Poetry Workshop for seven years and continues to be a regular guest writer, mentor and speaker. He was awarded Writer in Residence at Victoria in 1995 and in 2016 he received a Stout Memorial Fellowship for a two-year research project on landscape and culture.

Mr O’Brien began his career in journalism before studying art history and English at Auckland University, graduating in 1984.

His first piece of writing was published in 1987—a debut book of poetry, Location of the Least Person. He has now published more than twelve poetry collections.

Mr O’Brien has written about historical subjects as diverse as the School Journal, the Futuna chapel and Parihaka and has won numerous Montana New Zealand and New Zealand Post book awards.

Following his time as Writer in Residence at Victoria, Mr O’Brien published Lands and Deeds; Profiles of Contemporary New Zealand Painters and co-edited the anthology My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems with his partner Jenny Bornholdt. He also co-edited the Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English in 1997.

Mr O’Brien is a notable painter and illustrator and has held solo and group exhibitions. He is also is known for his illustrations of New Zealand writers’ work and his distinctive book covers. In May 2011, he was one of nine artists invited by the Pew Environment Group to voyage on the HMNZS Otago through the Kermadec region, resulting in an acclaimed exhibition.

Mr O’Brien’s contribution to New Zealand’s cultural scene has been acknowledged at the highest level. In 2012, he received a Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement. In the 2014 New Year’s Honours he was appointed to Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts.

The Victoria University of Wellington Council will confer an honorary doctorate on Gregory O’Brien at Victoria University’s 6pm graduation ceremony on Thursday 18 May.