Ngāti Kahungunu writer to receive PM's literature award

By Moana Makapelu Lee
  • Wellington

A Māori dramatist and fiction writer is being honoured for her contribution to fiction.  Ōtaki-based Renee of Ngāti Kahungunu has been named as a recipient for the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement.

A pioneering figure for women in theatre, at 89-years-old there isn't much Renee hasn't done.

"I had done every job in theatre you could think of.  I had acted, directed, I had prompted, cleaned, cleaned the toilets, the 'dunny' it was,” says Renee.

“But there was one job I hadn't done and that was write plays and so when I finished my degree I decided that's what I would do and so I did."

In 1981 Renee began her career as a playwright, writing 18 plays including her hit, Wednesday to Come.  Her work explored sensitive topics during the era, including Māori issues, gay rights and the working class.

"I'm working class and a lot of working class stories, like Māori for that matter, haven't been told and you certainly didn't see them on stage and so I wanted to do that.”

“I wanted to put women centre stage.  I didn't see why they should be there as someone’s mother or wife or cousin or sister."

At 50, after her time as director and actor, Renee began writing fiction novels and script writing for television.

In 2006 Renee was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and drama and in 2013 was the recipient for the Sir Kingi Ihaka Award. 

"I'm still writing, I'm writing a crime novel and I've got to finish that and I still teach workshops either on memoir or poetry or writing a crime novel and I don't see any reason to stop."

This year's recipients also include poet Michael Harlow and non-writer Wystan Curnow.

They will be awarded in Wellington on Monday.