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Witi Ihimaera
Photo Credit: Andi Crown

Witi Ihimaera

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Witi Ihimaera was the first Maori to publish both a book of short stories and a novel, and has published many notable novels and collections of short stories. Described by Metro magazine as ‘Part oracle, part memoralist,’ and ‘an inspired voice, weaving many stories together’, Ihimaera has also written for stage and screen, edited books on the arts and culture, as well as published various works for children.

His best-known novel is The Whale Rider, which was made into a hugely, internationally successful film in 2002. His novel Nights in the Garden of Spain was also made into a feature film, and was distributed internationally under the name of Kawa. The feature film White Lies was based on his novella Medicine Woman. And his novel Bulibasha, King of the Gypsies inspired the 2016 feature film Mahana. His first book, Pounamu, Pounamu, has not been out of print in the 40 years since publication.

He has also had careers in diplomacy, teaching, theatre, opera, film and television. He has received numerous awards, including the Wattie Book of the Year Award, the Montana Book Award, the inaugural Star of Oceania Award, University of Hawaii, a laureate award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation 2009, the Toi Maori Maui Tiketike Award 2011, and the Premio Ostana International Award, presented to him in Italy 2010. In 2004 he became a Distinguished Companion of the Order of New Zealand, in 2017 France made him Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the same year he received the NZ Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.

Receiving the Maori arts award Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi, Ihimaera said, ‘To be given Maoridom’s highest cultural award, well, it’s recognition of the iwi. Without them, I would have nothing to write about and there would be no Ihimaera. So this award is for all those ancestors who have made us all the people we are. It is also for the generations to come, to show them that even when you aren’t looking, destiny has a job for you to do.’

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Ways into Witi Ihimaera's works

Writing about the Māori world, both rural and urban, often knocking into the Pākehā status quo, Witi Ihimaera’s writing has always offered a broader view of what New Zealand literature could be – should be – about. But with numerous short stories, novels, libretti, plays, memoirs – well over 20 books, plus many more he has edited or contributed to –  where do you begin? Following is a sampling from our Fiction Publisher, Harriet Allan.