''No matter where I am in the world, the East Coast of Aotearoa will always be my home. It''s like the magnetic lodestone that keeps pulling me back to our island fortress at the bottom of the South Pacific,'' Witi Ihimaera says.
A renowned author, Witi Ihimaera''s novel Tangi was the first book ever published by a Maori writer in 1973. Since then, Witi has had success after success. His novel Whale Rider was made into a movie in 2003 by talented director Niki Caro, despite a small budget of around US $4m, Whale Rider was a worldwide success.
Other successful novels by Witi include Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies, Pounamu Pounamu and The Uncle''s Story. Following Witi''s success with Tangi, a whole new generation of Maori writers have stepped forward, including Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme and Alan Duff.
Witi was born near Gisborne in 1944 and has strong connections to most New Zealand tribes. He studied at Auckland University from 1963 to 1966, and also completed a BA at Victoria University, Wellington in 1971. During 1973, Witi worked as a diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, in 1975, he produced a film script and Maori booklet.
Most of Witi''s work concentrates on Maori families and the dilemmas they face, including working through the issues around the Treaty of Waitangi. His aim is to enable others to witness life from a Maori perspective.
Witi says, it is important that the uniqueness of New Zealand be preserved through literature, ''so that when people come to read a New Zealand book, they know that they will not get the same reading material as they do by reading elsewhere in the world,'' he told the New Zealand Herald.
Witi says what he loves about New Zealand is that it''s a special destination. ''You can''t go further south, unless you''re heading for Antarctica.'' He explains Maori people have a proverb, which in English translates as ''the most important treasure on Earth is people, humankind, men women and children''. ''I''m biased of course, but I think New Zealanders are one of the attractions of Aotearoa: enthusiastic, passionate, having goodness.''
Since 1990, Witi has worked as a professor of English at Auckland University and he enjoys mentoring students in Pacific Literature and Creative Writing. Witi is extremely proud of his students, recently pupil Lisa Olsson has had international success with her work Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs and former student Toa Fraser directed the New Zealand movie No. 2.
Despite mentoring others and his exceptional ability of putting pen to paper, Witi also recently co-produced the opera Waituhi - the Life of the Village and worked on his first ballet The Wedding for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. He says he had a lot of fun working with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and although he doesn''t have any more ballet scripts in the pipeline, he does have some opera ideas. ''I''ll fit the writing of them into existence somehow, somewhere.''
Witi is excited about the prospect of his books Bullibasha: King of the Gypsies and The Uncle''s Story being made into movies. ''The honour of being a writer is that you put it out there, and if you''re lucky, a young brilliant director like Niki Caro will see something special in it and want to take the story further.'' Filming on the movie Bullibasha will begin in March 2007 or thereabouts.
Witi also has a children''s book coming out in October 2006 called The Amazing Adventures of Razza the Rat. His short story The New Net Goes Fishing and novel The Uncle''s Story are both in the scripting stages for a play and movie respectively.
In 2005, Witi was named a Distinguished Companion in the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to literature. (This award is similar to a knighthood).