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Writing Wellington: Twenty Years of Victoria University Writing Fellows


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This book has three purposes. It is a contribution from the world of literature and the School of English, Film and Theatre to the 1999 centenary celebrations of Victoria University of Wellington. It marks the completion of two highly successful decades by the Victoria University Writing Fellowship, by collecting mainly new work by the twenty past Fellows. And it is an anthology of writing related to the city and region of Wellington.

In the first of these purposes Writing Wellington joins a long tradition of contributions to the best in New Zealand literature by Victoria University staff, students, graduates and now Writing Fellows. Many important books and journals have also been initiated or sustained from the University, including those from Victoria University and Wai-te-ata Presses Presses.

The two decades of the Writing Fellowship represent also a continuing partnership with Creative New Zealand (formerly New Zealand Literary Fund). In 1977 a report on Patronage and New Zealand Literature (the 'Vennell Report') advocated diversifying support for literature. My guest editorial in the New Zealand Listener ('Planting Poets', 8 October 1977) gave the case wider currency. It then became possible to convince the University to convert a tutoring position in English into half the funding for a Fellowship. The Literary Fund matched this, and, to its great credit, Creative New Zealand continues to do so.

The investment (to use the imagery of our age) has returned handsome dividends. Without exception Victoria's Writing Fellows have produced significant work during their year on campus. Seven of these publications have won the New Zealand Book Award, four have won or been shortlisted for the Montana (previously Wattie) Award, and the fruits of the Fellowship also include successful plays, poetry, short fiction and non-fiction, and major anthologies and editions. It is an extraordinary record, one that would be hard for any university fellowship in the world to match.

To recognise Wellington as a source and subject of literary work, the book's third purpose, is a new concept in New Zealand anthologies. In some of the pieces Wellington is central, in others merely incidental. A surprising range of the region's history is represented, from pre-European to aspects of present-day Wellington that include the public service, the harbour, academia and a women's prison.

The generous collaboration of the Fellows is warmly acknowledged, as is permission to include work by the late Louis Johnson. Acknowledgment is also gratefully made for contributions to the making of this book by Robert Cross, Nikki Hessell, Fergus Barrowman, Rachel Lawson and Dilys Grant. Publication is made possible by support from Victoria University, as a centennial project authorised by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Irving.