Good Reading : September 2007
18 goodreading ı SEPTEMBER 2007 so near &yetsofar categorical When New Zealand writer Keri Hulme won the Booker Prize for The Bone People in 1985, it was front-page news. New Zealanders were ecstatic that ‘one of our own’ had won the world’s most prestigious literary award. I was the literary editor of the Sunday Star in Auckland at that time, and I remember doing a follow-up news story – more big headlines – in which I lambasted her publishers, Hodder & Stoughton, for failing to nominate her for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The publishers were shocked – the idea had never occurred to them – and, in retrospect, it was rather an over- enthusiastic reaction on my part. But it does reflect the importance New Zealanders placed on Hulme’s win. Never before had such an overtly NZ book received such recognition from the rest of the world. It was time for us to thumb our noses at literary bigwigs in the US, Britain, and, yes, even Australia. NZ literature had arrived. It seems I wasn’t the only one to be over-excited about ‘our’ Booker win. As Fergus Barrowman, publisher at Victoria University Press (VUP), says: ‘There were hopes it would make NZ literature a global brand. It didn’t happen, of course. Nevertheless, Keri’s win has been one of a number of pieces of evidence that say the best NZ writing is as good as any writing from anywhere in the world. Cultural cringe will always exist to a degree because we are a small coun- try away from the major cultural centres of the [English-speaking] world. But we no longer have that sense that NZ writing is a bit dull but you have to make a special effort to read it.’ The Bone People , about a reclusive painter who undergoes a spiritual renewal, is unique in its powerful mix of reality and myth and its use of the rhythm and cadence of Maori storytelling. Hulme continues to write from her home at Okarito, a small town on the South Island’s west coast. Her most recent book is Stonefish, short stories and poems. While Hulme rarely gives interviews now, she writes an entertaining blog on her publisher’s website, www.huia.co.nz. Hulme is one of a number of highly regarded Maori writers who came to prominence in the 1980s. Others include Witi Ihimaera (Pounamu, Pounamu and The Whale Rider), now an associate professor teaching creative writing at Auckland University, and Patricia Grace (Baby No-Eyes, Tu). Victoria University lecturer Dr Alice Te Punga Somerville says the 1970s is usually held up as the time when individual Maori authors first had books published, rather than being part of collections. But she points out that there were accomplished Maori writers from the late 19th century: lawyer and politician Sir Apirana Ngata’s poetry, for exam- ple, was published in the 1920s. While she acknowledges the impor- tance of senior Maori writers such as Ihimaera and Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors), Dr Te Punga omerville says it is mportant also to read ew writers. She names hree favourites: James George (Ocean Roads), Paula Morris (Hibiscus Coast), and Kelly Ana Morey, ‘who wrote one f the most beautiful novels I ve ever read, Grace is Gone.’ Dr Te Punga Somerville has com- pleted the manuscript for a book of her own poetry and is working on a non- fiction book, Once Were Pacific , looking at Maori connections with the Pacific. New Zealand, particularly Auckland, is the biggest centre of Pacific people (from Pacific Ocean island nations such as Samoa, Fiji and Tonga) in the world. Pacific writers include Samoan author Albert Wendt (whose first novel was Sons for the Return Home , 1973), a professor at Auckland University since 1988. New Zealand’s writers are mostly unrecognised in Australia. Lloyd Jones is known for Mister Pip, winner of multiple awards, and Australians now have the chance to read his riveting earlier novel The Book of Fame, about the 1905 ‘Originals’ All Blacks tour of Wales (I read it in 2000 because my great-grandfather Harold ‘Bunny’ Abbott was an All Black in that team) as it was published here last month. ‘It has to do with the colonial machinery that still drives publishing in this region: we hear of NZ authors only when their books arrive on The literature of our neighbour across the Tasman is not well known to most Australians. Expat New Zealander CARON DANN hopes this will change with the publication here of more and more New Zealand books.