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Shuker scoops top literary prize


18 March 2006
Shuker scoops top literary prize

A new guitar and an amplifier are on the wish-list for Carl Shuker, who has just been announced as the winner of New Zealand’s largest literary prize, the $65,000 Prize in Modern Letters.

Mr Shuker, who once had to sell his treasured drum kit to finance his writing, began writing his novel, The Method Actors, while enrolled in Victoria University’s Master of Creative Writing programme under the direction of Professor Bill Manhire.

“This prize goes towards proving a maxim of mine: you never get what you think you most need until the time you no longer need it ¯ the debts that I ran up during the writing of The Method Actors were chilling, and I did believe that I’d come to the end of what I was capable of. This prize gives me, at least for a time, the freedom to carry on writing,” Mr Shuker says.

The prize is administered by Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters and is awarded biennially. The previous winners are Catherine Chidgey and Glenn Colquhoun.

The Method Actors, released in 2005 by American publishing house Shoemaker & Hoard, draws on the intensity of contemporary Tokyo, where Mr Shuker lived after completing his undergraduate degree, to tell a story in which the hedonism of young expats collides with a secret history of Japan. It took two and a half years to complete and has been hailed by the judges of the prize as a ‘first-rate pyrotechnic display’.

“Shuker lands you in a series of emotional universes, all beautifully embodied as well as described. He carried me off to whole separate worlds of adults and business, and then somersaults again, from students to ultra hipster free-floaters to historians and prostitutes,” says Barbara Epler, one of the prize judges and an editor for New Directions, a United States publishing house.

Fellow judge Geoffrey Wolff, novelist and biographer, admired Shuker’s bravura attentiveness to detail.

“The novel would be remarkable if only for its ambition. The novel roams the world, and its local accuracy – about manners, idiom and environment – is extraordinary.”

The unanimous decision was made by a panel of American judges: novelist and poet Stephen Dobyns, Barbara Epler and Geoffrey Wolff.

Mr Shuker’s next novel, The Lazy Boys, will be published at the end of 2006 by Shoemaker & Hoard. The Lazy Boys centres on a group of young men in Dunedin and was begun before The Method Actors.

The other shortlisted writers were Tusiata Avia, Jo Randerson, Kate Camp, William Brandt and Louise Wareham.


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