Another year has passed and more NZ storytelling heavyweights have been honoured for their significant contributions to NZ literature. Unity Books Wellington hosted the winners of the Prime Minister’s Awards to Literary Achievement at a lunchtime event, chaired by fellow author Paul Diamond, on Tuesday 15th October, 2019. The winners were Elizabeth Knox (fiction), Gavin Bishop (non-fiction) and Fleur Adcock (poetry). Each author was asked to read a segment of their work before answering Paul Diamond’s on-point, thoughtful questions.
Elizabeth Knox was first up, reading a chapter from her new novel The Absolute Book. Its creation happened during an incredibly hard time in Knox’s life but out of that, she still managed to create something magical. It was as if the book had “cast a spell” on her, enabling her to still create. With Bill Manhire declaring in an interview that Knox has the “most powerful imagination in the land”, it seems only right that she is turning her hand (and intellect) to myriad other projects. Nestled among them are a personal memoir documenting a time of family crisis and a sci-fi/fantasy young adult novel; both described in delicious detail and firmly cementing why we will always love to listen to Elizabeth Knox wax lyrical.
Gavin Bishop followed with two highly evocative stories from his illustrated memoir Piano Rock. Both detailed events from his 50s childhood in Kingston – most notably a rather visceral tale revolving around a newly arrived Greek family and their (soon to be devoured) pig, Maritza. Paul teased that NZ is in desperate need of a Children’s Laureate and that Gavin, if he so chooses, would be well up to the task.
Fleur Adcock was last up to the mic and read her delightfully impish poem The Old Government Buildings, from her latest poetry book Collected Poems: Fleur Adcock. She was then quizzed by Paul and reflected on escaping NZ (and Barry Crump) to live in the UK, where you could actually live and work as a writer. She tried to avoid the cliche of looking back at Aotearoa and “doing the Mansfield thing”. As to where she is heading, she is quite happy to “gaze out of train windows”, waiting to be surprised.
Words & photographs by Becks Popham