21 Dec 2023
A writer of speculative fiction, a scholar of indigenous studies, and a poet, performer and children’s book author are the recipients of the 2023 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.
All three have had international recognition and awards, as well as being celebrated at home. This year’s recipients are:
- Fiction: Lee Murray – an award-winning writer of speculative fiction and horror
- Non-fiction: Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith – an academic recognised internationally for her contribution to scholarship on indigenous thought
- Poetry: Tusiata Avia – an award-winning poet and writer, known for dynamic performances of her work in Aotearoa and internationally
The Awards were established in 2003 and are managed by Creative New Zealand. Winners are selected by the Arts Council on the recommendation of an external panel of experts.
The twenty-first year is the first time that women have been the recipients in all three categories. Including this year, 26 of 63 Awards have been presented to women.
Arts Council Chair Caren Rangi reflected on this milestone in the history of the Awards, “We think of 21 as a being a marker of maturity, and these writers reflect that in our literary scene. Each of these women is fearless in different ways, through experiment with genre, theory, and form. They have been recognised because they have each forged distinctive styles in their respective areas of practice.”
Other firsts this year relate to the cultural identity of the recipients. Lee Murray is a third-generation Chinese New Zealander and the first person of Chinese heritage to be recognised.
Tusiata Avia is the fourth person and first woman of Pasifika heritage to receive a PMALA after David Eggleton (Poetry) in 2016, Albert Wendt (Fiction) in 2012, and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell (Poetry) in 2005.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith CNZM is the first wahine Māori to receive the Non-fiction award, following Sir Tīmoti Kāretu (2020), Gavin Bishop (2019) and Dr Ranginui Walker (2009).
The Awards will be marked with an event early in 2024, with details to be confirmed.
Lee Murray, a third-generation Chinese New Zealander, is an award-winning writer and editor of speculative fiction, a poet, and a literary mentor.
She is the winner of five international Bram Stoker Awards, four Australian Shadows Awards and 12 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and is New Zealand’s only recipient of the Shirley Jackson Award for psychological horror for Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.
The author of 16 fiction titles and 70 short stories, Murray is the editor of 23 anthologies, including Remains to be Told: Dark Tales of Aotearoa (2023). She was the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow in 2021, Honorary Literary Fellow of the NZ Society of Authors in their 2020 Waitangi Day Honours, and winner of the NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize in 2023.
In 2011 she co-founded the Young New Zealand Writers Programme with Piper Mejia, which aimed to provide writing and publishing opportunities for young people outside of the school curriculum. She is also co-founder of the Wright-Murray residency for Speculative Fiction Writers and was made Life Member of SpecFicNZ (Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand) in 2018.
Tusiata Avia MNZM is a poet, performer and writer. Best known for her poetry, she has also written children’s fiction, creative non-fiction, radio documentary, short film and theatre.
Tusiata teaches poetry, creative writing and performance in tertiary institutions, schools, justice facilities and refugee and Pacific communities.
Her poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. It was also staged as a theatre show (like her first poetry collection, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, which most notably showed Off-Broadway, winning the 2019 Outstanding Production of the Year at Soho Playhouse). Both plays continue to show nationally and internationally.
Her other poetry collections are Bloodclot (2009), the Ockham-shortlisted Fale Aitu / Spirit House (2016) and her most recent collection, Big Fat Brown Bitch (2023).
Tusiata held the Fulbright Pacific Writer’s Fellowship at the University of Hawai‘i in 2005 and the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award.
In 2020 she was awarded a New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate and received a Queen’s Birthday Honour (New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to poetry and the arts. In 2023 was made a Distinguished Alumni from Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington.