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Maori author to receive Honorary Doctorate

One of New Zealand's first published Maori woman writers is to receive an honorary doctorate from Victoria University.

Jacquie Baxter (also known as J.C. Sturm) is to receive an honorary Doctor of Literature degree at the University's graduation ceremonies in May.

Born in the small coastal Taranaki town of Opunake in 1927, she studied at Otago, Canterbury and Victoria universities, becoming one of the first Maori women to receive a university degree when she graduated from Victoria with a Bachelor of Arts in 1949. She then went on to complete a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Victoria, graduating with First Class Honours.

Affiliated to the Taranaki and Whakatohea iwi, Jacquie Baxter was a member of the Ngati Poneke Concert Party and the Ngâti Poneke Maori Women's Welfare League in the 1950s and 60s and was the League's representative on the Maori Education Foundation in the 1960s.

Jacquie Baxter began writing when she was 11. Her first published work, a poem, was published in the Otago University student newspaper in 1947.

She wrote a number of short stories, articles and reviews for the influential and groundbreaking magazine Te Ao Hou and other magazines in the 1950s and 60s. The short stories were subsequently collected and published as The House of the Talking Cat in 1983. She paved the way for later Maori women writers such as Patricia Grace and Keri Hulme, who have acknowledged her as a forerunner of the Mâori Renaissance.

Her stories movingly depict the place of Maori women in New Zealand society and since the publication of her book of stories; she has published two collections of poetry, Dedications (1996), which won the Honour Award for Poetry in the 1997 Montana Book Awards, and Postscripts (2000). She is currently working on another book of short stories and poetry to be published this year.

She has also contributed enormously to the work of scholars studying the life and work of New Zealand poet James K. Baxter, to whom she was married. For 30 years she has worked tirelessly as the trustee and literary executor of his literary estate. This is a major commitment, involving the collection and cataloguing of Baxter's prodigious literary output; arranging new and revised printings of work; and liaison with musicians, filmmakers and playwrights over the use and adaptation of Baxter's work.

Jacquie Baxter, who lives on the Kapiti Coast, was librarian in charge of the New Zealand collection in the Wellington Public Library from 1969-82.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said the University's decision to award the honorary doctorate was recognition of Jacqueline Baxter's lifetime of achievement. "Her contribution to the visibility of Maori women in New Zealand literature is extremely important, both historically and culturally. The award of an honorary doctorate is a recognition of her pioneering role."

Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Public Affairs
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