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Vincent OSullivan Receives Michael King Fellowship

Vincent O'Sullivan receives $100,000 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers' Fellowship

Vincent O'Sullivan awarded Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers' Fellowship

Distinguished poet, fiction writer, biographer and editor Vincent O'Sullivan has been awarded the $100,000 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers' Fellowship to write a collection of short stories and two novels.

The Creative New Zealand Writers' Fellowship was established last year to support senior writers wishing to work on a major project over at least two years. It has been renamed in recognition of the late Dr Michael King, his contribution to literature and his role in advocating for a major fellowship for New Zealand writers.

O'Sullivan, who retired as Professor of English at Victoria University in 2002 and lives in Wellington, says he is honoured that the fellowship carries Michael King's name.

"I first met Michael when I was working at Waikato University in the 1970s," he recalls. "At that time, he was a young reporter on the Waikato Times, where he brought a real seriousness to the reporting of local and Mäori affairs. Following his career was to follow the emergence of an exceptionally wise and productive writer. He was also a remarkably selfless one. I can't think of any who did so much for his fellow writers."

For O'Sullivan, the Creative New Zealand Michael Kings Writers' Fellowship gives him "total liberty to spend a couple of years devoted to researching and writing the three works. There's still some essential research to be done out of New Zealand and the fellowship makes that possible."

His biography of New Zealand writer John Mulgan, Long Journey to the Border (Penguin), was shortlisted in the biography category of the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards announced in early June. Reviewing the biography in The New Zealand Herald last November, Michael King described it as "a fine and scrupulous biography" and concluded: "I can't envisage a better or more deeply satisfying book being published in New Zealand this year."

O'Sullivan's latest poetry collection, Nice morning for it, Adam (Victoria University Press), was published this year. One critic wrote that this latest volume "shows O'Sullivan in superb form: he just keeps getting better".

O'Sullivan was selected from an impressive line-up of senior New Zealand writers. Applications were assessed by an expert literary panel whose recommendations were forwarded to the Arts Board of Creative New Zealand for the final decision.

Alastair Carruthers, acting Chair of the Arts Board, said that Vincent O'Sullivan has made an enormous contribution to New Zealand's literature and is an acclaimed writer across a number of genres: poetry, novel, short stories, plays, biography. Also an editor and critic, he has just written his first opera with music by composer Ross Harris.

"Vincent has produced an extraordinary body of work and readers everywhere can look forward to reading the work that transpires from this fellowship," Mr Carruthers said.

At the recent Writers and Readers' Week, held as part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival 2004, O'Sullivan was asked by an audience member whether he was planning to write an autobiography. The writer's response was: "Oh, I don't have the imagination for that."

Over the past 15 years, O'Sullivan's imagination has resulted in five poetry collections, two novels, two short story collections, three plays for professional theatre, several radio plays and the Mulgan biography. In that time, he has also edited numerous literary publications and is completing the final volume of the five-volume edition of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, which he has been editing with Margaret Scott. He has also edited The Norton Critical Edition of Katherine Mansfield., which will be published next year by W.W. Norton and Company, New York.

O'Sullivan's entry in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, written by Professor Mac Jackson of the University of Auckland, notes: "O'Sullivan can mock, satirise and laugh, but he also finds dignity in unexpected places. He is interested in the borderland where truth and lies meet, both in life and in fiction itself."

The winner of many literary prizes, including the Montana New Zealand Book Awards for fiction and poetry, O'Sullivan was also the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton in 1994 and Director of the Stout Research Centre at Victoria University in 1997. He was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in 2000.

Given Vincent O'Sullivan's long list of achievements, what else is there for him to achieve? "Anyone satisfied with what he's done has already given up being a writer," he says. "All I want to achieve is that the next book might be an improvement on the previous one."

The Creative New Zealand Writers' Fellowship was offered for the first time in 2003 to Timaru writer Owen Marshall as a result of the Government's additional funding of $1 million (inc. GST) per year made available to the literary sector. Part of the funding was also used to establish three annual Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement, worth $60,000 each and awarded in the categories of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Vincent O'Sullivan and the recipients of the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement will be celebrated at a special function in late 2004.

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