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Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister: Presentation of the Inaugural Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement

Grand Hall Parliament

Tonight’s event is a celebration of New Zealand’s writers. The literary achievement awards to be presented have been made possible by the inclusion of an extra one million dollars a year in the Budget, for the benefit of New Zealand literature and authors.

The best way of distributing the funding was worked through by Creative New Zealand and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage with input from a consultative group of writers. It was very important that ideas and suggestions from the sector were considered, so that the final allocation of the funding could achieve a good balance of benefits for both individuals and the literary art forms.

The decision was made to distribute funding across the Authors’ Fund, an annual writing fellowship, audience development projects, and awards for literary achievement.

All in all this represents a significant shot in the arm for New Zealand’s literary arts, an area in which our country has long excelled.

The additional $500,000 for the Authors’ Fund has now been allocated to eligible writers for the calendar year ending 2002, through Creative New Zealand.

The first Creative New Zealand Writers’ Fellowship, awarded to Owen Marshall and presented this evening, is part of the package. The $100,000 award offers writers the opportunity to write fulltime for extended periods. Owen is an exceptionally worthy recipient of the fellowship. His story-telling gifts have delighted readers and substantially augmented the body of New Zealand fiction.

As this fellowship will be available annually, many New Zealand writers of talent will have the opportunity to follow in Owen’s footsteps.

Funding for audience development initiatives has enabled research on the New Zealand publishing sector to be undertaken. On the basis of the results, an ongoing strategy will be formulated.

Our writers are read eagerly by both New Zealand and overseas readers – and I believe there is scope to increase the international readership.

But New Zealand books have always had an avid and enthusiastic audience at home, and long may that continue.

Buying books was the most common cultural activity reported in the Cultural Experiences Survey undertaken by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Statistics New Zealand (published in July this year). 1.2 million people, an impressive 44 per cent of the adult population, bought at least one book in the four weeks before the survey. Furthermore 67 per cent of those said they were “interested” or “very interested” in New Zealand authors.

Over the years the Montana New Zealand Book Awards have played a very important role in celebrating New Zealand writers and publishers.

The new Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement, awarded for the first time tonight, complement the Montana Awards. New Zealand readers have been asked to nominate those who should be considered for these awards.

The financial level of the awards recognises the difficulties inherent in making a living from writing. Like the new Creative New Zealand Writers’ Fellowship, they offer writers an income for a period sufficient to produce substantial work. The awards are being offered in three distinctive literary areas: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

The government made the additional one million dollars available because of its strong belief that the literary arts, along with the performing and visual arts, are worthy of support per se. Through the arts, including literature, we can define ourselves as a uniquely creative nation. Through support for the arts we make it possible for our talented people to reach their full potential.

Our writers have a key role to play in the way in which we develop our identity. Writers interpret, record, and pass on their experiences and insights, using styles which are uniquely their own. Their gifts define and enrich our country and its culture and heritage.

Tonight’s inaugural award winners have each used their special talents to interpret their life experiences and to speak of their New Zealand-ness in their own language. Their works reflect to their readers, wherever they may be, something of what it means to be a New Zealander.

Through their work, those whom we are honouring tonight, have given something of immeasurable value to our country, and we all take tremendous pride in their achievement.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be presenting these inaugural Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement tonight.

The first award – The Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in POETRY – goes to a poet whose first collection was published in 1964; it remains widely read in New Zealand and is now in its tenth impression. He has been a Burns Fellow, Te Mata Poet Laureate, recognised through an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award, and the recipient of an overseas study award. His considerable body of works include numerous collections of poetry; one last year was short-listed for the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

He is of Ngâ Puhi, Ngati Korokoro, Tautahi, Uri o Hau, and Te Popoto descent.

The Inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry goes to HONE TUWHARE.

The Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in FICTION goes to a writer whose early life has been described as “rich in the love of language and literature”. She overcame stiff challenges to begin her writing career in earnest in the 1950s, and her first novel, published in 1957 received national and international acclaim. Her career developed rapidly and her output has remained consistently award-winning. Indeed, her autobiography has received multiple awards. She too has received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award.

This writer has been described as evincing “extraordinary artistry” and “a marvellous sense of the pace and patterns of experience”.

The winner of the Inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction is JANET FRAME.

The third award is made for NON-FICTION writing.

The winner of this section is a history graduate whose first book was published in 1972. For ten years he focused on aspects of Mâori life and history. Included in his work from that time are two biographies of outstanding Mâori women leaders. Since then, he has written about wider New Zealand history, including the Pâkehâ contribution to New Zealand society and culture.

This writer has devoted much of his more recent work to literary biography. By 2003, he had written or edited a total of 33 books.

His citation for his honorary doctorate in literature from Victoria University said: “He is that rare beast, one who has dared to write scholarly works for the public marketplace rather than for the academy, yet has retained the highest respect of the university community.”

The Inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction goes to MICHAEL KING.

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