Culture & Heritage

Changing the world with words

Kiwis are a creative, ingenious, and determined bunch, and the writing stock of New Zealand is no exception. 

If you’re a reader, here are five female authors you should have heard of. They all happen to be from New Zealand, and they have all shaped the literary world in some way, for the better.

1. Katherine Mansfield
“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others... Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth” – Katherine Mansfield, Journal.

She is one of New Zealand’s most internationally famous authors. She was a rebel writer who changed the way the short story was written in the English language. At the age of 19, she settled in England, where she became a friend of writers such as D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. She was a determined modernist who lived her short life of 34 years to the full, raising more than a few eyebrows along the way.

2. Margaret Mahy, ONZ
“It changes you forever, but you are changing forever anyway.” – Margaret Mahy, The Changeover.

Margaret Mahy is New Zealand’s most celebrated writer for children and young adults. Generations of Kiwi kids grew up reading her works. In a 55-year career, she published more than 120 titles: novels, picture books, short stories, poems and educational texts, as well as writing for film and television. Her books have been translated into 15 languages and reflect her delight in fantasy, magic, adventure, humour, the supernatural, and the transformative power of language. No wonder she was decorated with the New Zealand Order of Merit.

3. Keri Hulme
“You want to know about anybody? See what books they read, and how they've been read…” – Keri Hulme, The Bone People.

Keri Hulme’s novels, short stories and poems are widely published. Māori, Celtic, and Norse mythology, in homage to her mixed heritage, is threaded through all her writing. And in 1985 her novel, The Bone People, took the world by storm when it won the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker). She was also the first New Zealander to win it – not a bad effort for a first novel.

4. Eleanor Catton
“Never underestimate how extraordinarily difficult it is to understand a situation from another person's point of view.” – Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries.

Catton’s second novel, The Luminaries, was published in 2013 and is set on the goldfields of New Zealand in 1866. It won the 2013 Man Booker Prize and at 832 pages, The Luminaries is the longest work to win the prize in its 45-year history, by the youngest author ever to win it.

5. Patricia Grace
“For those who wish to develop the craft of writing, I would say: Write every day. Read every day. Write what you know and push the boundaries of what you know.” – Patricia Grace.

Patricia Grace is one of New Zealand’s most prominent and celebrated Māori fiction authors and a figurehead of modern New Zealand literature. She achieved initial acclaim in the 1970s with her collection of short stories entitled Waiariki (1975) – the first published book by a Māori woman in New Zealand. She has published six novels and seven short story collections, as well as many books for children and a work of non-fiction, and has won many literary awards, notably in 2008 being recognised with the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

So, if you’re after a world-class read from world-class writers… we know a place.