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Victoria University Confers Honorary Doctorates

Victoria University is today (14 May 2003) conferring honorary doctorates on three people. They are:

  • Jacquie Baxter, Honorary Doctor of Literature (1.30pm ceremony)
  • Glenn Schaeffer, Honorary Doctor of Literature (1.30pm ceremony)
  • Gillian Karawe Whitehead, Honorary Doctor of Music (6.30pm ceremony)
  • Citation of

    Jacqueline Cecilia Baxter

    for the degree of




    In 1996 Jacquie Baxter, writing as J.C. Sturm, published her first book of poetry, Dedications. Poet Robert Sullivan called it ‘a defining moment in New Zealand poetry.’ The collection went on to win the Honour Award for Poetry in the 1997 Montana Book Awards. It was followed in 2000 by a critically acclaimed second collection, Postscripts.

    Remarkably, Jacquie Baxter was almost seventy when Dedications appeared, fifty years after her first poem had been published in a university magazine. Her experiences are emblematic of the difficulties Maori writers of the period faced in their efforts to be taken seriously. Jacquie Baxter paved the way for the ‘Maori Renaissance’ of the 1970s. Witi Ihimaera wondered ‘whether or not the substance and style of Maori literary tradition would have been different had J.C. Sturm and [her belated 1983 collection of short fiction] The House of the Talking Cat achieved success and publication in their time, rather than twenty years later.’

    Jacquie Baxter, of Taranaki and Whakatohea descent, was born in Opunake in 1927. Her whakapapa links her directly to the radical pacifist community of Parihaka. The bitter poem ‘Anniversary Day’ recalls her eighteen year-old-mother, Mary Papuni, who died at Jacquie’s birth, having endured ‘Fifteen interminable days / Of dirty surgery / Medical negligence / And unattended pain’. She was raised by Pakeha parents, Ethel and Bert Sturm, who encouraged her to succeed in the Pakeha world. She amply fulfilled their ambitions for her, winning numerous school trophies, and becoming one of the first Maori women to complete a university degree.

    Following a BA begun in Otago and completed in Canterbury, Jacquie Baxter moved with her young family to Wellington where, in 1950, she commenced an MA at Victoria. Her dissertation, ‘New Zealand National Character as Exemplified in Three New Zealand Novelists,’ was commended for its exceptional merit and awarded a First.

    Success in the Pakeha world has not been at the expense of Jacquie Baxter’s heritage. Throughout her life she has maintained strong Maori connections, and was a member of the Ngati Poneke Concert Party and Maori Women’s Welfare League, representing the League on the Maori Education Foundation during the 1960s.

    In the decade following the publication of her first short story in 1954, Jacquie Baxter contributed regularly to periodicals, including the ground-breaking magazine Te Ao Hou. In 1966 she became the first Maori selected for a New Zealand anthology when C.K. Stead published her in Oxford’s New Zealand Short Stories. Although her stories avoid specific reference to Maori, the society they depict fosters inequality, and her work conveys a strong and poignant sense of alienation.

    Personal circumstances meant that Jacquie Baxter’s writing suffered through the seventies and eighties, although in her own words she ‘continued writing inside [her] head.’ During this period she managed the New Zealand collection at the Wellington Public Library. She retired to Paekakariki where, in 2000, she was honoured with the Kapiti Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Jacquie Baxter’s life is an extraordinary record of achievement and perseverance in the face of considerable odds. As the widow of James K. Baxter she has been denied the privacy most of us take for granted, and has endured much with quiet dignity. Yet she has served New Zealand literature and scholarship uncomplainingly as Baxter’s literary executor. Even now, thirty years after his death, her own writing is often forced to take a back seat to the considerable demands of his estate. Perhaps the greatest testament to her character is that she has been able to stand apart from this monumental presence and make her own, significant, contribution to this country’s literature as J.C. Sturm. It is fitting that we recognise her achievements with this high honour.

    Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you

    Jacqueline Cecilia Baxter,

    Master of Arts in the University of New Zealand,

    for the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, in this University.

    Citation of

    Glenn Schaeffer

    for the degree of




    If you visit Las Vegas, Nevada, you find yourself in a place where commerce and the human imagination have produced some of their most astonishing combinations. One of the most remarkable is found in a single individual: the businessman and philanthropist Glenn Schaeffer.

    As a young man, Glenn Schaeffer began a novel with the working title, Holy Shaker, about the relationship between a gospel singer and a travelling evangelist. This was as part of his MFA degree at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop. Before that he had been awarded a BA summa cum laude and MA from the University of California at Irvine, where he was also elected the university’s youngest Phi Beta Kappa Scholar.

    So we are speaking of a man with a distinguished academic background, who eventually took his powerful intelligence into the world of business. He is now President and Chief Financial Officer of the Mandalay Resort Group. But Glenn Schaeffer has also continued as a kind of literary evangelist – and it is as a man actively committed to the values of literature and the imagination that we honour him today.

    Recently Mr Schaeffer founded the International Institute of Modern Letters. The Institute’s broad aim is to identify and support emerging literary talent throughout the world in order to increase the diversity of voices being heard. It does this primarily through a series of partnerships.

    One partnership is with the International Parliament of Writers, set up in the wake of the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Its “Cities of Asylum” programme provides refuge to persecuted writers in over thirty cities worldwide. Glenn Schaeffer led the funding initiative to make Las Vegas the first City of Asylum on the North American continent.

    Another of the Institute’s major partnerships is with the International Centre for Writing and Translation, which works to support languages and cultures in danger of disappearing. As its director, the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, says, it is “a site of the possible” – a model for a world which might thrive on free conversation among languages.

    operations in a range of ways – not least by refurbishing a dedicated headquarters building, with the result that the best views on campus now belong to the poets and novelists.

    He has also set up scholarships which annually bring Iowa’s top graduates to Victoria and take Victoria’s to Iowa. Nationally, he has inaugurated the $60,000 Prize in Modern Letters. This is the single largest literary award in Australasia, and – characteristically – is aimed at our leading emerging writers. Mr Schaeffer is also strongly committed to outreach activities, such as the national secondary schools’ writing festival to be held at Victoria later this year.

    What all these initiatives have in common is that they direct our attention to the unheard and the under-heard, to writers whose voices are currently muted, but to whom we should be listening.

    I spoke of Glenn Schaeffer earlier as a philanthropist, but he prefers to call himself a literary activist. He sees literature as the only art form which transforms the lives we lead. He sees it as a force for challenging and questioning; for expressing doubt; and above all for making trouble.

    “I like troublemakers,” he has been quoted as saying, “because they change the world.” We are delighted to be able to honour such a significant troublemaker, and we are glad that he is making some of his trouble in our neighbourhood.

    Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you

    Glenn Schaeffer,

    Master of Arts in the University of California,

    Master of Fine Arts in the University of Iowa,

    for the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, in this University.

    Citation of

    Gillian Karawe Whitehead

    for the degree of




    The origins of one of New Zealand’s most distinguished musical careers lay in a childhood spent among the natural world near Whangarei. The music of Gillian Whitehead is suffused with the sounds of the sea and hills, the wind and rain, the sense of space and light, and their Maori associations. To this, she added an outstanding career of academic study, and profound understanding of Europe’s rich musical heritage.

    While studying at the University of Auckland, Gillian Whitehead sang in the Cathedral choir under Peter Godfrey. This insight into the English choral repertoire contributed to her remarkable early success as a composer with Missa Brevis in 1963, performed while she was a student at Victoria University. Taking her Bachelor of Music with Honours here in 1964, she then moved to the University of Sydney for the Master of Music in Composition. She worked in Adelaide and London with the eminent composer Peter Maxwell Davies, and in the next ten years established herself internationally as a freelance composer.

    In this formative and fruitful period she drew on her Ngai Te Rangi heritage for works such as whakatauki, based on the vivid imagery of Maori sayings, and on English traditions for the chamber opera Tristan and Iseult. The two cultures came together in a series of important monodramas and operas on traditional English themes, written in collaboration with the London-based New Zealand poet, Fleur Adcock. In Hotspur, for instance, they reinterpreted Shakespeare’s exuberant Northumbrian warrior in a ballad sequence set as a monodrama for mezzo-soprano and chamber sextet. Gillian Whitehead has also set texts by Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield and Keri Kaa, and continues to explore Maori melodic design, cultural forms, and spirituality. New Zealand is thus a vital element in the creativity of a composer who is at the same time confidently international.

    After two years as Composer in Residence for Britain’s Northern Arts at the University of Newcastle, Gillian Whitehead in 1981 joined the staff of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where she later became Head of Composition. At this time she collaborated with the Italian-Australian writer Anna-Maria dell’Oso in three significant operas. Taking early retirement, she now composes full-time in Sydney and Dunedin, where her opera of the Otago goldfields, Outrageous Fortune, was performed to acclaim in 1999. That work and the recent the improbable ordered dance both won the annual Contemporary Music Award of the SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music. During 2000 and 2001 she was Composer in Residence with the Auckland Philharmonia, and currently serves as President of the Composers’ Association of New Zealand. Gillian Whitehead’s lifelong contribution to New Zealand music was recognized by appointment to The New Zealand Order of Merit and Artist Laureateship of the New Zealand Arts Foundation. She remains an active friend of Victoria University, contributing, as guest lecturer and external examiner in composition, to the next musical generation.

    Chancellor, you and the Graduation audience will hear tonight a little of Gillian Whitehead’s work, in which she has done so much to make New Zealand music universal, and to bring universal elements into New Zealand music. An outstanding and original musician, she has been described as a “creative mediator between cultures”, a “genuine discoverer of new solutions”, and “among the most eminent New Zealand composers”.

    Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you

    Gillian Karawe Whitehead,

    Member of The New Zealand Order of Merit

    Bachelor of Music with Honours,

    Master of Music in the University of Sydney,

    for the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, in this University.

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