Two of New Zealand’s leading writers, Witi Ihimaera and Owen Marshall, have been jointly named as Creative New Zealand-Randell Cottage Writers in Residence for 2015. This is an unusual move for the residency, which selection panel chair Vincent O’Sullivan describes as an “elegant response to an extraordinary number of impressive applications.”
The writers will live and work in Thorndon’s Randell Cottage for three months each, in the second half of 2015.
Witi Ihimaera is a novelist, short story writer, anthologist and librettist, was born in Gisborne. He is of Te Whānau A Kai and Ngāti Porou descent with close affiliations to Te Aitanga A Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, Tūhoe, Te Whakatōhea, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Kahungunu. His works include Tangi, The Matriarch, The Whale Rider, (which was made in to a film by Niki Caro in 2002), the semi-autobiographical Nights in the Gardens of Spain, and The Parihaka Woman. A memoir, Māori Boy has just been released by Random House. Ihimaera became a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, for services to literature.
Ihimaera will use his time at the Randell Cottage to work on a second volume of his three volume memoir Native Son, covering the period 1961 to 1990, a trajectory that sets his life against national and international history, delineating the professional dilemmas as well as the personal. The residency will enable him to consult his own archives at the J.B. Beaglehole Room and also the Foreign Affairs archives at the National Library.
“I’ve got a deadline to meet with Native Son,” he says. “I want to finish the book for publication by the end of 2016 at the latest, so the three months working out of the Randell Cottage will keep me on target to deliver. As well, writing a book is like running a marathon, so there’s a physical advantage in the residency as it’s equidistant to my two archives. I’ll be walking between both and that will keep me fit to cope with the mental and emotional rigour of the work.”
Timaru-based writer Owen Marshall has published or edited almost thirty books, including novels, short stories and poetry including Living as a Moon, Watch of Gryphons, Carnival Sky, The Larnachs and Drybread. His 1999 novel Harlequin Rex won the 2000 Deutz Medal for Fiction at the Montana Book Awards. He has held fellowships at the universities of Canterbury and Otago and in Menton, France. Marshall is an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury, which awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in 2002. In 2000 he became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and in 2012, a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In 2013 Marshall was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in fiction.
Marshall will be working on a contemporary novel concerning a love affair between a mature couple, one a widower, the other married, in which he will explore the power of such emotional attachments and their sometimes irrational and damaging consequences.
For Marshall: “It’s a privilege and a pleasure to share the 2015 fellowship with Witi Ihimaera and I look forward to writing in the stimulating environment of Wellington and being part of the literary community there.”
O’Sullivan says both the proposed projects are significant: “The Randall Trust is delighted to play its part in giving what support it can to these eminent writers.”
The Randell Cottage Writers Trust was established in 2002. The restored Thorndon cottage, one of Wellington’s ten oldest buildings, was gifted to the trust by the Price family and hosts two writers a year; one from New Zealand and the other from France. The 2015 French resident, writer and translator David Fauquemberg arrives in Wellington in January 2015. The current New Zealand resident is Kapiti Coast writer Tina Makereti who is writing an historical and allegorical novel based on the experiences of the indigenous people who were exhibited in Victorian London, and elsewhere in Europe, as cultural artefacts and oddities.