Bruce Stewart of Ngati Raukawa, Te Arawa, is a fiction writer and dramatist. Stewart’s work has expressed the anger, confused loyalties and spiritual aspiration of Maori since the late-twentieth-century. His novels, plays and short stories concentrate on race and masculinity, friendship and the child’s view on life. His writing is described as having strong lyrical and oral dimensions. Stewart founded Tapu Te Ranga Marae at Island Bay, Wellington.
FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature
Stewart, Bruce (1936– ), of Ngati Raukawa, Te Arawa, is a fiction writer and dramatist who has expressed the anger, confused loyalties and spiritual aspiration of late-twentieth-century Maori.
He began writing seriously after a Michael King workshop in 1974, drawing on his varied experience as a bushman, builder, farm worker, prison inmate, singer and father; and made a big impact when he read his hard-hitting prison story, Broken Arse, at the PEN/Victoria University Conference in 1979.
It was published in Into the World of Light (1982) and he later rewrote it as a playscript, which was performed in Wellington in 1990, televised and published by Victoria University Press in 1991. In this dramatic form the strong choric element of the rebellious prisoners stomping and chanting in unison became even more powerful as haka.
While race anger is prominent, it is essentially a story of betrayal from within a group of men, of self-serving manipulation of a code of permitted violence, not unlike Foreskin’s Lament from the same time. A novel, Disorderly Girl*, was published in 1980 and a collection of short fiction, Tama and Other Stories in 1989, when another play, ‘Thunderbox’, was also televised. An extract from a novel in progress, ‘Te Au’, was published in Te Ao Marama, Volume 3, 1993, with a substantial representation of Stewart’s recent work.
The ‘raw power’ and ‘anger’ (Rangi Faith) of Stewart’s presentation of the Maori underclass makes his early work precursive of Alan Duff’s, but there is also a lyrical and spiritual quality, especially in the recurrent treatments of the child’s view of life and of interaction with the land.
Memorable passages include the child’s communion with a fallen rimu in ‘Boy’, the journey through bush to mountain top in ‘Papa’, and the felling of a prime totara in ‘Te Au’. The writing frequently moves outside conventional narrative prose and is particularly strong in the oral dimension, including authentic idiomatic dialogue, internal monologue and fragments of intense incantatory poetry.
Born in Hamilton, Stewart grew up in the Wairarapa and was educated at Wairarapa College. He has lived mainly in Wellington, where he successfully set up the first work trust and founded Tapu Te Ranga Marae at Island Bay, creating a centre for debate and education in Maori culture and protocol and for the redevelopment of native bush. He was president of Nga Puna Waihanga (Maori Writers and Artists Society) in 1982. An interview with Stewart is in Neville Glasgow, Direction (1995).
*Note: The Bruce Stewart of this Writers file did not write a novel called Disorderly Girl (1980). This novel was written by another author who shared the same name.
Author entry from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature,
edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998).
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