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Kiwi author receives prestigious Bellagio Residency

Kiwi author receives prestigious Bellagio Residency

New Zealand author and University of Auckland graduate Paula Morris has been awarded a prestigious Bellagio Residency, which she will take up in October this year.

The residency programme was established in 1913 by the Rockefeller Foundation. Residencies take place in the foundation’s properties in the picturesque Italian town of Bellagio, Lombardy, by the edge of Lake Como.

It is one of two residencies Paula has been awarded this year. She is also spending a month at Brecht’s House in Denmark as a resident in July. Brecht's House is named after author Bertolt Brecht who lived there in the 1930s.

The residencies are further kudos for the author who already has a long history of success in the literary world. Now she plans to bring her talent home to the University of Auckland and teach a Master of Arts course in creative writing next year.

After completing a BA in English in 1985 and a D.Phil at the University of York, Paula entered the music industry. She worked in London, first at BBC Radio 3 and then as a publicist, for both Virgin and Polygram Records. She moved to New York in 1994 to work for BMG Entertainment, initially for ECM Records and later for RCA Victor, where she was vice president of marketing.

But her desire to write continued. She started taking creative writing classes at New York’s West Side Y. She then completed a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.Paula’s first novel, Queen of Beauty, was published in 2002, and it featured in a number of 'best of 2002' book lists. The Listener called it the 'local debut of the year’. Three more novels, Hibiscus Coast (2005); Trendy but casual (2007) and Rangatira (2012) followed. Rangatira went on to win the Fiction category at the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2012 and the Nga Kupu Ora Maori Book Awards 2012.

Since 2003 she’s taught creative writing at universities including Tulane University in New Orleans, and the University of Stirling in Scotland. She is currently Fiction Writer-in-Residence at the University of Sheffield in England.

Despite her success, the news of the Bellagio Residency was a surprise to her.

“It’s very highly regarded because of its beautiful setting in an old palazzo on Lake Como. I’ve never applied before because you’ve got to be quite established in your career and working on a project that fits with the kaupapa of the Rockefeller Foundation.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got the email.”

Paula, of Ngati Wai and Ngati Whatua descent, will take the two-week residency in late October before she returns to New Zealand in 2015 to teach students taking the University’s Master in Creative Writing (MCW)course.
She will teach students in a two-hour workshop each week, and a two-hour seminar series each week.

“We'll discuss aspects of technique and published work, talk to visiting writers, and host visitors from every aspect of the literary world, so students will leave with a wide-ranging knowledge of the business and an understanding of the many ways for writers to make a living.”

“Often people are very focused on, say, a career as a novelist, and haven't considered things like writing adaptations for radio, or submitting work to overseas outlets.”

Paula will also give seminars about how to pitch work to agents, grant committees, foundations and festivals, and how to work with an editor.

“The idea of an MA like this is to help students build the skills, confidence and ruthlessness they'll need to keep writing afterwards, and to make great strides with their own creative practice. It's about supporting, inspiring, informing, and challenging the writers taking part.”

Paula says she is happily anticipating her return to Auckland.

“I'm very excited about the opportunity to work with writers here. This is a lively, diverse and creative city, and I'm looking forward to reading new voices and to helping writers here at the university and beyond, in any way I can.”

She already has some sound advice for undergraduates considering their future study options and career paths.

“I always advise them to study what really, really interests them, and to try to find and follow their passions in life.”


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