New Zealand writers - a short introduction

New Zealand’s diverse literary tradition owes as much to its rich Māori and Polynesian heritage as it does to its pioneering history.

New Zealand’s diverse literary tradition owes as much to its rich Māori and Polynesian heritage as it does to its pioneering history.

Before the printed word, story-telling and oratory captured the stories of Aotearoa New Zealand. The first book was published in New Zealand in 1830.

By the 20th century authors were expanding their literary exploration into themes of land, geographical isolation and the emergence of national identity.

Today New Zealand’s pool of literary talent is vast, covering all genres and continuing to inspire readers at home and around the world.

Here is a small sample of some of New Zealand's contemporary writers.

Eleanor Catton

The newest star on the New Zealand literary scene, Eleanor Catton was only 28 when she was awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2013 for her sophomore novel The Luminaries.

History from this victory was made not only once by Catton - the youngest ever recipient in the prize’s 44-year history - but twice, the 832 page-turner is also the longest-ever novel to take out the respected accolade.

The Auckland-based author is only the second New Zealander to win the 50,000 pound (NZ$95,000) prize; the first was Keri Hulme who won the prize for her haunting novel, The Bone People, in 1985 - and when Eleanor Catton was just a few weeks old.

Witi Ihimaera

The first Māori writer to publish both a book of short stories and a novel, Witi Ihimaera considers "the world I’m in as being Māori, not European," and his fiction develops out of this perspective.

Ihimaera creates imaginative new realities for his readers, drawing from autobiographical experience and, in 1996, he also moved to foreground his sexuality, describing Nights in the Gardens of Spain as keeping faith with his gay audience. He writes new work for opera and his novel, The Whale Rider, has become an internationally successful feature film.

C. K. Stead

C.K. Stead is one of New Zealand’s foremost literary figures. He is a distinguished novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist and emeritus professor of English of the University of Auckland.

Stead has won, and been nominated for, many prestigious awards and fellowships, including the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship in 2005. Stead is one of only two living New Zealand writers to be honoured as a Member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ).

Kate Camp

Kate Camp was the winner of the 2011 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers’ Residency. She has been described as one of New Zealand’s most startling and original poets and is also a highly regarded literature reviewer on radio.

Camp has published five collections of poems: Unfamiliar Legends, Realia, Beauty Sleep, The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls and Snow White's Coffin. Unfamiliar Legends won an award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls was awarded the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry. Snow White's Coffin (2013, Victoria University Press) was written while she was in Berlin.

Kate De Goldi

Kate De Goldi is a short story writer, an author of young adult fiction, a children’s book author and a writer of journalism articles. De Goldi also regularly reviews books on radio and television.

She won the American Express and Katherine Mansfield Memorial awards for short stories, as well as the New Zealand Post Book of the Year Award in 2005 and 2009. She was named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate for 2001. The 10pm Question (2008) won the Young Adult section of the 2009 New Zealand Post Book Awards and the 2011 Corine International Book Prize Young Readers Award.

Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones is an award-winning fiction writer. His first collection of short stories was published in 1991, and he has also written books for children. His bestselling novel Mister Pip won several illustrious prizes and awards including the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award and the 2007 Montana Medal for fiction. It was also shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize.

Jones has written numerous novels, and has worked as a journalist and consultant. His writing is known to subvert the norms of fiction, and his narratives are challenging, original, and in some cases controversial.

Annabel Langbein

Celebrity chef Annabel Langbein is known for her easily prepared recipes using home-grown fresh food. Author of 18 cookbooks and star of her own television series, Annabel Langbein has established an international following.

The Free Range Cook - named New Zealand’s best celebrity cookbook in the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards - is available in more than 70 countries and has sold over 100,000 copies. Langbein has her own media company providing food and lifestyle media services, including book publishing and TV and video production.

Rachael Hale

Rachael Hale has had world-wide success as a photographer and bestselling author. Her books are available in 11 languages and have sold over 2.5 million copies.

Hale has won numerous awards for her animal portraiture and her images have been published on calendars, posters, greeting cards and stationery in more than 20 countries. Rachael Hale received a fellowship from the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography in 2000.

Joy Cowley

Joy Cowley is a prolific, widely published and much-celebrated writer of fiction for adults and children. Her educational reading material is described as "learning through laughter". Cowley has sold millions of these little reading books for children, and it is estimated 70 percent of American schools use them.

More than 40 million copies of Cowley's picture book Mrs Wishy-Washy’s Farm have been sold worldwide. Her many awards include Children’s Book of the Year, the Order of the British Empire, New Zealand Post Book Awards and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in fiction. Joy Cowley was made a Distinguished Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to children's literature in 2005.

Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy (1936 - 2012) is the most acclaimed of New Zealand’s children’s writers. The author of more than 120 titles, and translated into 15 languages, Margaret Mahy has readers across the globe. She worked as a librarian for more than 10 years before becoming a full-time writer. Mahy’s books ring with humour, fantasy, adventure, science and the supernatural, but always engage with the ordinary world.

Awarded the Order of New Zealand in 1993, she also won many of the world’s major prizes for children’s writers, including the Carnegie Medal and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Selina Marsh

Selina Tusitala Marsh is a poet and scholar. She was the first person of Pacific descent to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland, where she now lectures in Māori and Pacific literary studies. Marsh established Pasifika Poetry, an online hub that celebrates the poetry of tagata o te moana nui / the peoples of the Pacific.

Her first collection of poems, Fast Talking PI, was published by Auckland University Press in 2009, winning the 2010 NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry.

Background: New Zealand Book Council

The New Zealand Book Council’s online Writers Files provides the most comprehensive collection of information about New Zealand writers on the Internet. Expanded information on many of the authors featured above plus many others can be found on this website: New Zealand Book Council

Source: New Zealand Ministry of Culture & Heritage

More information

Eleanor Catton - The Luminaries

Kiwi celebrity chef: Annabel Langbein