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Rachel Barrowman wins largest literary fellowship

Media release

Date: 23 June 2006

Rachel Barrowman awarded New Zealand’s largest literary fellowship

Historian Rachel Barrowman has been awarded the $100,000 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship to write a major biography of leading New Zealand writer Maurice Gee.

The Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship is the largest writing fellowship available in New Zealand and supports established writers wishing to work on a major project. Barrowman, who lives in Wellington, says the fellowship will enable her to complete the research and get the writing well under way.

Primary research will include interviews with Gee and key people in his life, as well as reading his literary papers, many of which are deposited in the Alexander Turnbull Library, and his personal papers.

“Undertaking a project of this kind would be impossible without financial support,” Barrowman said. “The opportunity to work fulltime on it over an extended period will be of immense benefit to the project.

“I am honoured and thrilled that Creative New Zealand has awarded me this prestigious fellowship, which pays tribute to Michael King, one of New Zealand’s finest historians and literary biographers.

“I’m also very grateful to Maurice Gee for having agreed to my writing his biography.”

Barrowman is the author of four books, including Mason: the life of R.A.K. Mason (Victoria University Press, 2003). This book won the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Award for biography and was described by poet Kevin Ireland as “a stunning account of four decades of New Zealand literary, social and political history”.

Born in Whakatane in 1931, Gee is one of New Zealand’s most distinguished writers and was awarded the 2004 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Fiction. His works, which include 16 adult novels and ten books for children, occupy a central place in New Zealand literature. His latest novel, Blindsight, was recently shortlisted for the Deutz Medal for Fiction in this year’s Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

“I really enjoyed Rachel’s biography of R.A.K. Mason,” Gee says. “I have complete faith in her skills as a biographer and will be giving her access to my personal papers.”

Barrowman was selected as the recipient of the 2006 Creative New Zealand Michael King Fellowship from a strong line-up of 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.

Arts Board Chair Alastair Carruthers said board members were delighted that the fellowship would enable a talented, mid-career writer to work with an icon of New Zealand literature to record his life and works.

“It’s vital to capture the stories of our senior artists, who have been the cornerstones of their artforms over a long period,” he said.

It was particularly fitting, Mr Carruthers said, that this year’s fellowship was awarded to an historian. “The late Michael King’s contribution to documenting this country’s history and its people is enormous. I believe he would have been delighted both by this year’s recipient and the subject of her biography.”

Previous recipients of the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship are Timaru writer Owen Marshall, Wellington writer Vincent O’Sullivan and Auckland writer C.K. Stead.

Rachel Barrowman and the recipients of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement 2006 will be celebrated at a special function in late 2006.


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