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Memoir of World War II exile wins Adam Prize

MEDIA RELEASE

12 December 2013

Memoir of World War II exile wins Adam Prize


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Adam Prize winner Helena Wiśniewska Brow (centre) with her family: (L-R) Jeremy Brow, Stefan Wiśniewski, Lucy, James and Anna Brow, and Olga Wiśniewska.

A memoir about the family of one of the Polish children offered refuge in New Zealand during World War II has won the prestigious Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing for 2013.

Give Us This Day: A memoir of family and exile was written by International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) graduate Helena Wiśniewska Brow. 

Supported by Wellingtonians Denis and Verna Adam through the Victoria University Foundation, the $3,000 prize is awarded annually to an outstanding student in the Master of Creative Writing programme at the IIML. This is the first time the prize has been awarded for a memoir.

Polish refugee children are among the most well-known of New Zealand’s World War II exiles. They were expelled by the Soviets from Eastern Poland and endured forced labour and starvation in Siberia, then in refugee camps in Iran, where Helena’s grandmother died.

In 1944 Helena’s father, uncle and three aunts were among those offered refuge in New Zealand where they were cared for and educated, first in a camp in Pahiatua, and later in New Zealand secondary schools.

Chris Price, a Senior Lecturer at the IIML and co-convenor of this year’s Master’s programme, says she was struck by the richness and dexterity of Helena’s work.

“This book rolls up travel, memoir and history in an insightful and poignant journey of discovery into one family’s past, and its psychological legacy in the present. It’s a story that will resonate with a wide range of readers whose lives have been lived in the long shadow cast by the war,” she says.

In 2010 and 2011 Helena completed the Creative Non-Fiction and Short Fiction Workshops at the IIML. She says winning the Adam Foundation Prize is an honour. “I can’t imagine how I would have achieved the same result without the support and feedback from my classmates and the teaching staff at the Institute.”

“It has to be the best way to spend a year—writing the book you’ve always been meaning to write, with that level of encouragement.”

Auckland writer John Newton, an examiner for Helena’s thesis, says he found the memoir captivating and moving.

“No one has told this story with the finesse that Helena brings to her memoir. Its distinction, it seems to me, is in dramatising exile by exploring what it feels like to grow up as the child of an exile. I simply can’t think of a better book on World War II refugee experience in New Zealand,” he says.

Previous Adam Foundation Prize recipients include acclaimed authors Eleanor Catton, Catherine Chidgey, Paula Morris and Ashleigh Young.

ENDS

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