Witi Ihimaera among recipients of 2017 Prime Minister’s Awards

By Leo Horgan

Creative New Zealand has announced the winners of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement. They are internationally renowned Māori novelist Witi Ihimaera, literary historian and fine arts writer Peter Simpson and popular poet and children’s author Paula Green.

Each will be awarded $60,000 in recognition of their outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature. Witi Ihimaera will be honoured for fiction, Dr Peter Simpson for non-fiction, and Dr Paula Green for poetry.

Arts Council Chair Michael Moynahan said, “Our congratulations to this year’s recipients who are being recognised for their extraordinary legacy of literary achievement. As leaders in their respective crafts, they have engaged New Zealand readers with their story telling and have inspired other New Zealand writers to build on their literary legacy.”

The awards will be presented at a ceremony at Premier House in Wellington, on Wednesday 9 August. The 2017 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writer’s Fellowship winner, Dr Philip Norman, will also be honoured at the ceremony.

The Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement were established in 2003. Every year New Zealanders are invited to nominate their choice of a writer who has made a significant contribution to New Zealand literature in the genres of non-fiction, poetry and fiction. New Zealand writers are also able to nominate themselves for these awards.

About Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler, DCNZM, QSM (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki).

Born in Gisborne, Witi Ihimaera is a novelist, short story writer, filmmaker, anthologist, librettist and playwright. He is of Te Whānau a Kai, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou and Tūhoe descent. He has the distinction of being the first Māori writer, in 1972, to publish both a book of short stories and a novel. His novel, The Whale Rider, became an internationally successful feature film and Māori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood won the General Non-Fiction Award at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His most recent books are Black Marks on the White Page, co-edited with Tina Makereti, and Sleeps Standing, with te reo translation by Hemi Kelly, about the Battle of Orakau.

Regarded as one of the world's leading indigenous writers, Witi has held numerous writing residencies and fellowships. He holds an Honorary Doctorate from Victoria University of Wellington, and in 2009 he was honoured as an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate as well as the supreme Māori arts award Te Tohu mō Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu at the Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Awards. He was named a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004. Last month the French Government appointed him a French Knight of the order of arts and letters (Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres) for his contribution to literature.