15 Oct 2018

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2018 Prime Ministers Awards for Literary Achievement winners announced

Feminist and working-class stories, poetry as song, and a deeper understanding of New Zealand art – these are just some of the frontiers explored by this year’s winners of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.

They are beloved Māori dramatist and fiction writer Renée, revered critic, curator and poet Wystan Curnow and admired poet, publisher and librettist Michael Harlow.

The Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, announced the recipients today.

Each will be awarded $60,000 in recognition of their outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature. Renée will be honoured for fiction, Wystan Curnow for non-fiction, and Michael Harlow for poetry. 

“Our warmest congratulations to Renée, Wystan and Michael,” says Arts Council Chair Michael Moynahan.

“Each of these extraordinary storytellers has a unique perspective on New Zealand identity, and has significantly contributed to our country’s literary landscape, creating a strong legacy for New Zealand writers.”

The awards will be presented at a ceremony at Premier House in Wellington on Monday 15 October.

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.

Nominations are assessed by an external expert panel and recommendations forwarded to the Arts Council of Creative New Zealand for approval. This year’s selection panel was Jill Rawnsley, John Huria and Murray Edmond, chaired by Lauren Hughes.

full list of previous recipients can be found on the Creative New Zealand website.

Creative New Zealand and Unity Books invite you to a free literary event

The recipients of the 2018 Prime Ministers Awards for Literary Achievement will read and discuss their work with Radio New Zealand journalist and Nine to Noon host Kathryn Ryan.

This is a free event at Unity Books, 57 Willis Street, Wellington on Tuesday 16 October, 12-12.45pm. All welcome. 


For media enquiries, please contact:

Jasmyne Chung
Senior Communications & Advocacy Adviser
Creative New Zealand
M: 027 838 8868 | DDI: (04) 498 0727  


Additional notes: author biographies

2018 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement – Fiction

Renée, ONZM (Otaki, Ngāti Kahungunu)

Renée (formerly Renée Taylor) is a dramatist and fiction writer. Born in 1929 in Napier, she is of Ngāti Kahungunu and Irish-English-Scots ancestry.

Renée left school and started work at the age of 12, working in woollen mills, a printing factory, a grocery-dairy, and as a feature writer and reviewer. She also completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Auckland in 1979. She has been involved with community theatre, the Broadsheet Collective, PEN, radio shows, programme organisation for the Globe Theatre in Dunedin, and with script writing for television.

Renée started writing for the stage at the age of 50 and has also written a short story collection and numerous novels. Her most loved work is Wednesday To Come, the first in a trilogy of plays about four women of four generations in a single family. Her most recent work These Two Hands: A Memoir tells the story of her eventful life.

She was Robert Burns Fellow in 1989, as well as writer in residence at Waikato University in 1995, writer in residence at Randell Cottage (Wellington) in 2005, and Children's Writer in Residence at the University of Otago in 2007. She has also taught creative writing at Whitireia Polytechnic and annual memoir writing workshops for the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

In the 2006 Queen's Birthday Honours, Renée was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and drama, and in 2013 received a Sir Kingi Ihaka Award recognising lifetime contribution at Creative New Zealand’s Te Waka Toi Awards.

2018 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement – Non-fiction

Wystan Curnow, CNZM (Auckland)

Wystan Curnow is a widely regarded poet, critic, curator and editor.

He has published six collections of poetry, authored or edited 18 books of art and literary criticism, and curated more than 20 exhibitions in New Zealand and internationally.

Moving between literature and the arts, theory and practice, Wystan’s writing is known for its keen observations, providing essential, in-depth commentary on New Zealand contemporary art. His collection of art writings, The Critic’s Part (2014), was awarded the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand’s gold medal for Best Collection (2015), and in 2005 he became a Companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit for contributions to art and literature.

Wystan lectured for many years at the University of Auckland, where he taught an influential course in American poetry together with Roger Horrocks and Michele Leggott. He has held writer’s residencies in Buffalo, New York, Avize, Champagne, Giaoli, Tuscany, and Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. In 2009, he was Distinguished International Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

2018 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement – Poetry

Michael Harlow (Alexandra)

Michael Harlow is a poet, writer, publisher, librettist and Jungian therapist. Born in the United States with Greek and Ukrainian heritage, he settled in New Zealand in 1968 and is a New Zealand citizen.

Michael won the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Distinguished Contributions to Poetry in 2014. He has published 10 books of poetry, and appeared at literary festivals in Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico, Romania, and Italy. Michael was the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow in 1986, writer in residence at Randell Cottage in 2004, Robert Burns Fellow in 2009, Caselberg Artist in Residence in 2009, and Wallace Artist/Writer in Residence in 2011-2012.

As publisher and editor, Michael published the early work of some of New Zealand’s leading poets, including Michele Leggott, Gregory O’Brien, Murray Edmond, and Bernadette Hall, and he has mentored many others. He has served as a judge for New Zealand and international poetry competitions, national book awards and on literary fellowship selection committees. As a librettist in collaboration with New Zealand composer Kit Powell, he has created and presented performance works in New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Russia.