Scientist beats bookworms to take top literary prize
A science analyst for the Prime Minister has been awarded the top prize in the country’s most distinguished literary awards.
In winning the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award, for published writers, 27 year old Gemma Bowker-Wright has been hailed alongside such New Zealand literary greats as Keri Hulme, CK Stead, Charlotte Grimshaw and Frank Sargeson.
Ms Bowker-Wright picked up the Award for her story, Katherine, about the fading mental powers of a wife and the effects of that on a happy marriage. Head judge and leading New Zealand fiction writer Owen Marshall says Katherine was a pleasure to read and a story that he re-read several times.
“Katherine is an excellent piece that I hope gets published in the future. Ms Bowker-Wright’s writing is confident and original, with balance, compassion and restraint. My congratulations to this talented young author,” he says.
Ms Bowker-Wright has a background in science with a BSc in Marine Biology and Ecology and a MSc in Restoration Ecology and Conservation Genetics from Victoria University and works as a science analyst at the Department for the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This year she is studying towards a MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML).
She also won the Sunday Star Times Short Story Award in 2010, however says she was shocked to learn that she had won the Katherine Mansfield Award. “Writing has always been a much loved hobby but this $10,000 prize will now enable me to focus on writing my stories with the aim of hopefully publishing a book one day.”
The BNZ Novice Writer category, for unpublished writers was won by Aucklander Toni Spencer for her story Rainbow Fishing about an elderly man’s relationship with his grand-daughter. Category judge Rachael King says the story quite simply took her breath away.
Another science buff, Dunedin college student Chiao Lin, picked up the BNZ Young Writer Award scoring a $1,500 prize for herself and $2,000 for her school for her story The Wrong One. Judge and author Penelope Todd says the story was “delicately wrought and draws the reader back time and time again”.
BNZ Director of Retail, Andy Symonds says the Awards’ 52 year history represent the bank’s enduring commitment to New Zealand literature. “It is an absolute privilege to witness the incredible raw talent that unsurfaces with these Awards every year.
“These three young women exemplify the spirit of Katherine Mansfield – they are each creative, innovative and gifted. We are delighted to be in a position to help uncover this talent and provide some well deserved recognition which is why we have supported these awards since their inception.”
Established in 1959, the BNZ Literary Awards aim to foster literature in New Zealand and are the country’s longest-running short story awards.
BNZ has been part of the New Zealand landscape for 150 years and holds close ties to Katherine Mansfield. Her father, Sir Harold Beauchamp, was a director of BNZ, a position he held for 38 years. He was also the chairman of the board for 17 years.
Literary Awards offer three levels of entry:
• BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award, for published writers - $10,000 prize money
• BNZ Novice Writer, for unpublished writers - $1,500 prize money
• BNZ Young Writer, for writers who are at secondary school - $1,500 for the student and $2,000 for the winner’s school.