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Literary Praises for Poet’s Modern Letters

Literary Praises for Poet’s Modern Letters

The plaudits keep coming for Glenn Colquhoun, who can now add the $60,000 Prize in Modern Letters to his shelf of New Zealand literary awards.

The announcement was made today (13 March) at a ceremony during Writers and Readers Week – part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival in Wellington. Mr Colquhoun is only the second winner, after Catherine Chidgey won the inaugural prize in 2002.

“He's got everything it takes for greatness,” says Douglas Unger, one of the international judges. “There are already truly great poems in his books, especially in Playing God, one of the most moving and admirably rich books of poems I've read in years.”

Glenn Colquhoun grew up in South Auckland. He began training as a minister but became disillusioned with organised religion and subsequently worked in a variety of jobs before deciding to study medicine at the age of 26. He now works as a doctor in Te Tai Tokerau in Northland. During his training, he took a year off and lived at Te Tii, a remote community in the Bay of Islands. It was this experience that inspired his first collection of poetry, The Art of Walking Upright (1999), which won the Best First Book of Poetry Award in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. He has also published a children’s book, Uncle Glenn and Me (1999) and the verse booklet An Explanation of Poetry to my Father (2001), in which he uses hands-on language and humour to explain poetry to his father – “a man of few words”.

His second major poetry collection, Playing God, won both the Poetry Category of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2003, and the coveted 2003 Montana Readers' Choice Award. Colquhoun is the first poet to be awarded the Readers' Choice Award.

The Prize in Modern Letters rewards an emerging author who has published one but not more than two books over 80 pages in length (48 pages for poetry), and is administered by the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) based at Victoria University. Glenn Schaeffer, an American philanthropist and arts activist who launched the IIML at Victoria University in 2001, personally funds the award, which is thought to be the most valuable for an emerging author anywhere in the world.

Glenn Colquhoun was the unanimous choice of a panel of leading contemporary American writers: Sandra Cisneros, Douglas Unger, Geoffrey Wolff and Eric Olsen (the US Director of the IIML).

“Glenn Colquhoun makes poems in the great tradition of doctor-writers who exploit the healing properties of passionate and precise language to bind the world's wounds. His curiosity – an abiding sense of wonder at the people he lives among – is a priceless tonic,” says Geoffrey Wolff.

“I would prescribe Glenn Colquhoun's poetry for whatever ails you. Wise, witty, and wonderful, these are everyday poems for everyone. Better than vitamins or medicine. An elixir for the heart,” says Sandra Cisneros.

The four authors shortlisted for the Prize in Modern Letters were William Brandt, Kate Camp, Glenn Colquhoun and Geoff Cush, who have all published to great acclaim in New Zealand.

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