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Grace, Patricia

IN BRIEF

Patricia Grace is a major New Zealand novelist, short story writer and children’s writer, of Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa and Te Ati Awa descent, and is affiliated to Ngati Porou by marriage. Grace began writing early, while teaching and raising her family of seven children, and has since won many national and international awards, including the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for fiction, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, widely considered the most prestigious literary prize after the Nobel. A deeply subtle, moving and subversive writer, in 2007 Grace received a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to literature.


FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature

Grace, Patricia (1937– ), novelist, short story writer and children’s writer, is of Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa and Te Ati Awa descent, and is affiliated to Ngati Porou by marriage. She has gained wide recognition as a key figure in the emergence of Mäori fiction in English since the 1970s (see also Heretaunga Pat Baker, Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera, Bruce Stewart, June Mitchell). Her work, expressive of Mäori consciousness and values, is distinguished also for the variety of Mäori people and ways of life it portrays and for its resourceful versatility of style and narrative and descriptive technique.

Born in Wellington, Grace was educated at St Anne’s School, St Mary’s College and Wellington Teachers’ Training College, later gaining Victoria University’s Diploma in the Teaching of English as a Second Language. At Teachers’ College, she began to seek out books by New Zealand authors, including Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame and Amelia Batistich: ‘when I first read some of her stories it came home to me [that] writing was a question of voice and truth, and of a writer finding his/her own way of telling. Grace was a New Zealander with a different voice’ (interview with Jane McRae in In the Same Room, ed. Elizabeth Alley and Mark Williams, 1992). She began writing at about 25 while teaching in North Auckland, being published in Te Ao Hou and the NZ Listener, and continued to write while teaching, raising her family of seven children and moving to Plimmerton, near Wellington, where she still lives. Her first book, Waiariki (1975), the first short story collection by a Mäori woman writer, won the PEN/Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Fiction.

The collection is shaped so as to find for Mäori, in the words of the first story’s title, ‘A Way of Talking’, and to ‘show who we are’. This is the task given by an elder to the narrator of the final story, ‘Parade’, and stands almost as an artistic credo. The collection may be read as a progress from the almost autistic inarticulateness of the schoolgirl Hera in ‘A Way of Talking’ to the confident choric harmony of the canoe chant in Mäori with which ‘Parade’ ends.

The opening and closing of the volume thus establish a meticulous though unobtrusive patterning: this careful craft remains characteristic. The ten stories between elaborate the affirmation of a people’s right to speak, each with a narrative voice that is distinctively different, yet distinctively Mäori, whether formally oratorical or racily colloquial. Though Grace’s style has often been described merely as ‘simple’ or ‘lyrical’, she has successfully shown that ‘a Mäori world is not limited and Mäori people are as diverse as any other people’. While not the only writer to make narrative use of the Mäori oral tradition, Grace’s sheer range is instantly impressive.

She has continued to extend it. Her first novel, Mutuwhenua: The Moon Sleeps (1978), tells the story of the love and marriage of a young Mäori woman and Pakeha man, the first time this had been done from the Mäori perspective and by a Mäori writer. It is focused on the effort of Ripeka/Linda to find identity as well as love, as increasingly she commits herself to her Mäori being, family and name.

The novel ends with her passing the couple’s baby to her mother to be brought up in the extended family, so that the effort of what Grace has called the ‘very, very large leap’ of cross-cultural adjustment is asked of the husband, whereas ‘Most often it’s the Mäori people who have to go across the gap’ (McRae interview). His love and moral quality are tested and judged in those terms: ‘I went to him confidently. He had not once failed to love.’

While committedly Mäori, Mutuwhenua is pointedly positive and non-polemical, emphasising ‘the common ground that all forms of life have in this country’, with ‘stereotypes skilfully flicked aside’ (Patrick Evans, Landfall 128, 1978). Its writing also demonstrates a remarkably sensitive ear, with phrases often cadenced and paragraphs almost scored musically, for instance in the rhythmic Eliot-like prose-poems which describe the city, or the several evocations of the sea shore. (Every Grace book has included variations on this aural depiction of the sea meeting the land.)

Grace is acutely conscious of sound, subtle in onomatopoeia, and imbues even visual description with a strong aural quality. The stories in The Dream Sleepers and Other Stories (1980), her second collection, extend the diversity of Mäori voices and aspects of Mäori life, including some robustly sketched children and two memorable mothers—the comic-maverick car-toting mother of ‘It Used to be Green Once’ and the elemental, mythic yet very human mother of ‘Between Earth and Sky’, a three-page monologue which has rapidly become an iconic New Zealand text.

Always writing well of children, Grace in the early 1980s wrote increasingly for them, seeking to add to the ‘few stories that Mäori children see themselves in and that reflect their lives’. The Kuia and the Spider / Te Kuia me te Pungawerewere (1981), illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, which tells of a spinning contest between the elderly Mäori woman and the spider of the title, won the Children’s Picture Book of the Year Award. Watercress Tuna and the Children of Champion Street / Te Tuna Watakirihi me Nga Tamariki o te Tiriti o Toa, also illustrated by Kahukiwa, emphasises society’s multiculturalism, and was also published in Samoan. Grace has also published a third children’s book, The Trolley (1993) and several Mäori language readers, Areta and the Kahawai/ Ko Areta me nga Kahawai (1994).

The collaboration with Robyn Kahukiwa then produced Wahine Toa (1984), Grace’s text complementing the book-form reproductions of Kahukiwa’s striking paintings of the women of Mäori mythology. ‘We decided to personalise the stories realising more and more that the stories are both contemporary and ancient.’

In 1985 Grace held the Victoria University writing fellowship, gave up teaching and completed her second and most successful novel, Potiki (1986), which won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction and was third in the Wattie Book of the Year Award. In many ways it is a synthesis of the skills developed in the earlier work (including the children’s writing), with carefully crafted cadences and aural effects unifying the prose, and evoking not only the people’s diverse individual voices and the sounds of their environment but their harmony with it and each other.

Potiki has been translated into several languages and in 1994 won the LiBeraturpreis in Frankfurt, Germany.

The more aggressive political stance struck many reviewers, John Beston commenting that Pakeha readers find themselves charged ‘not with past and irremediable injustices, but with continuing injustices’ (Landfall 160, 1986). Their embarrassment (in Hera’s word from ‘A Way of Talking’) extends to the inclusion of much untranslated Mäori, especially the ending, and the absence of a glossary. In Potiki as earlier in ‘Parade’ Grace disempowers the reader who can read no Mäori at crucial points within the cultural form of fiction in English. Potiki makes more evident how subtly subversive a writer she habitually is.

Her third collection, Electric City and Other Stories (1987), adds to the group of stories in The Dream Sleepers, centred on the girl Mereana, which Grace originally thought ‘would add up to a novel, but they didn’t’. The volume’s more successful stories are the darker adult ones, such as ‘Hospital’, with its harsh, hallucinatory version of childbirth and surgery, and its close on a despondent and aimless journey (‘not to know what’s round this bend, the next, the next one after that’), thus ending where Cousins begins.

Grace’s third novel, Cousins (1992), followed Selected Stories (1991). In what may now be seen as a characteristic shaping principle, it moves from that initial wandering journey, silent, blind and objectless, to the vocal, visionary, firmly rooted communal harmony of the ending, with its sense of membership and continuity even in the face of death.

The Sky People (1994), her fourth story collection, is more explicitly and consistently concerned with the disoriented, dispossessed and despondent—‘The Haurangi, the Wairangi, the Porangi—those crazy from the wind or what they breathe, those crazy from water or what they drink, those crazy from darkness or depression’ (prefatory epigraph from ‘conversation with Keri Kaa’).

From sisters damaged by childhood abuse by their famous and respected father to a teenage boy tipped into suicide by sexual jealousy and its consequences, these stories refute any suggestion that Grace sentimentalises relationships among Mäori. Some are political, like the zestful Swiftian satire ‘Ngati Kangaru’ (in which Mäori from Australia reverse colonisation by appropriating a luxury weekend residential development), some are half-jocularly mythical, like the racy retelling of Mäori creation myth in ‘Sun’s Marbles’, and some are realistic and sympathetic sketches of people on the margins of society.

The writing is versatile and self-assured, and the stories stronger and more often surprising than before; several (‘Flower Girls’, ‘The Day of the Egg’, ‘My Leanne’) end with a dramatic twist or punch. The title story, about a group of people who live by re-making rejected clothes in a Wellington attic, shows a developed skill in combining entertaining storytelling with a telling underlying significance.

It also (with others in this collection and earlier) illustrates a paradox that frequently sustains Grace’s art—stories of loss, isolation and sadness which yet are bright with colour, stories where the details of life’s sights and sounds tumble out in vivid lists, and where a childlike innocence and insight intersect with the most knowing adult awareness.

Patricia Grace has won enthusiastic recognition among non-Mäori readers, was awarded the Queen’s Service Order in 1988 and an honorary DLitt of Victoria University in 1989. She makes a significant early statement of her artistic aims in Tihe Mäori Ora, ed. Michael King (1978). Significant critical discussion includes Rachel Nunns, Islands 26 (1979), John Beston, Ariel 15 (1984), W.H. New, Dreams of Speech and Violence (1987), Mark Williams, Journal of New Zealand Literature 5 (1987), the OHNZLE, ed. Terry Sturm (1991), and Roger Robinson in The Commonwealth Novel in English Since 1965, ed. Bruce King (1991), and the Centre for Research into New Literatures in English Reviews Journal (New Zealand issue, 1993), which also reprints the interview with Jane McRae.



Author entry from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature,
edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998).
 

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Additional Information

In 1986, Patricia Grace was awarded third place for Potiki at the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards. In 1987, Potiki won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction.

The Trolley, written by Patricia Grace and illustrated by Kerry Gemmill, picked up the 1994 Russell Clark Award for illustration.

Baby No-Eyes (1998) is a novel that merges controversial actual events with stories of a heartfelt family history. It is an account of the mysteries that operate at many levels between generations – different voices interweaving family history with contemporary Maori issues. A baby who died becomes a ‘real’ person who interacts with family members. Granny Kura tells her story against a background of land occupation.

Dogside Story (2001). The power of the land, the strength of whanau, the humour and aroha of the community are powerful life-preserving factors. But there is conflict in the whanau, the reasons for which unravel as the eve of the new Millennium approaches. Dogside Story won the 2001 $15,000 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for fiction. The award was announced at the 14th Annual Vancouver International Writers Festival in Canada.

This announcement continues the international acclaim for Patricia Grace’s Dogside Story, which was longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in August 2001. It was also shortlisted in the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Dogside Story was reissued by Penguin Books in 2005. ‘...a magnificent hui of a book that bubbles over with laughter, human frailty, hope and love.’ Review by Kelly Ana Morey, New Zealand Listener.

Patricia Grace's next novel was Tu, published by Penguin in 2004. The novel received the Deutz Medal for Fiction and Montana Award for Fiction at the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. It also won the 2005 Nielsen BookData New Zealand Booksellers' Choice Award.

In this novel, Patricia Grace visits the often terrifying and complex world faced by men of the Maori Battalion in Italy during the Second World War.

Tu is proud of his name - the Maori god of war. But for the returned soldier there's a shadow over his own war experience with the Maori Battalion in Italy. Three young men from the one family went to war, but only one returned - Tu is the sole survivior.

When his young niece and nephew come to him to find out what happened, Tu is brought face to face with the past. What really happened to the three brothers as the Maori Battalion fought in the hills and valleys of Italy is contained in the pages of his war journal, which he decides to give to his niece and nephew.

Patricia Grace has drawn on the war experiences of her father and other relatives and ventured into new territory by writing about the world of war and soldiers. The result is a novel of great authenticity and high drama from one of our finest storytellers.

Patricia Grace was honoured as a living icon of New Zealand art as part of the second biennial Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Awards in 2005. She has also wrote 'Moon Story' for the anthology Myths of the 21st century (Reed, 2006).

In 2006, Grace was awarded $60,000 for fiction at the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement. Prime Minister Helen Clark said, 'Patricia Grace’s work has played a key role in the emergence of Maori fiction in English. A writer of novels, short stories and children’s fiction her work expresses Maori consciousness and values to a wide international audience.' The annual Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement recognise writers who have made a significant contribution to New Zealand literature.

As part of the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2007, Grace recieved a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to literature.

Grace has been named the 2008 laureate of the US$50,000 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The honour, administered by the University of Oklahoma and its international magazine World Literature Today, is judged by an international jury and widely considered to be the most prestigious international literary prize after the Nobel. In announcing the 2008 Neustadt laureate, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Neustadt professor and executive director of World Literature Today said: ‘This award is a landmark recognition of an indigenous writer and gives a strong sense of the direction of important literature in the 21st century.’

In her most recent work, Ned and Katina (Penguin, 2009), Grace beautifully writes a true story of love in wartime and in peace.

Patricia Grace will be the 2014 Honoured New Zealand Writer at the Auckland Writers Festival.

Last updated: April 2014

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writers in schools information

KAPAI: Kids' Authors' Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
I live on ancestral land in Hongoeka Bay, Plimmerton. When I say ‘ancestral land’, I mean land that has come down to us through generations, from ancestors. Our community has its own meeting house, Te Heke-mai-raro, which is part of our marae complex.

What sorts of books do you like to read?
I read mainly fiction – novels and short stories.

Who is your favourite author?
I don’t have a favourite author but enjoy books that show people and how they interact with each other, and how they make a way through life.
   
Where do you get your ideas?
I get ideas from what goes on about me – from what I hear, see, smell, taste, and from all aspects of life. Some ideas come from reading or talking.

What is the best thing about being an author?
One of the best things is meeting with people interested in books.

Some Questions from Primary School Students
Do you have any pets?
I do not have a pet. My mother has a cat called ‘Dollar’. It is mainly black with a big gold spot on its head.

Do you have a favourite colour?
Red and green.

Do you have a favourite food?
Fish.

Do you have a favourite movie?
A film I enjoyed lately was called The Rabbit Proof Fence.

Do you play any sports or games?
Watching netball.

What is the most fun thing about being any author?
Meeting with young people enthused about writing.

How do you make books?
I don’t make books. I write them and the publishers do the rest.

Where do you go for your holidays?

I often go to Tolaga Bay.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Some friends and I sneaked off to the lunchroom and played table tennis while everyone else was at Benediction.

Some Questions from Secondary School Students
How did you get started?
I began entering writing competitions in local newspapers, then joined a Penwomen’s Club in Auckland and began entering their monthly writing contests.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
I think I was more influenced by what I read rather than by a particular person.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Write, write, write and keep writing. Read, read, read and keep reading.
Take opportunities to have your work read or published.

Is it difficult to make a living as a writer in New Zealand?

Is it difficult to make a living as a writer. However there are many positives that make up for low earnings. I have met people I would not otherwise have met, travelled to places I would not otherwise have been to.

What were you like as a teenager?
I loved challenges and like learning. Generally liked to conform, but when it came to sports and physical activity I was a real risk taker.

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Media links and clips

  • There is a bibliography about this author in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File.
  • Patricia Grace is available for writer visits as part of the Book Council's Writers In Schools programme.
  • Dogside Story is featured in the Spring 2001 edition of RED (Reading Entertainment Discussion).
  • Toi Maori Aotearoa: profile
  • Interviews with NZ Children's Authors at the Christchurch City Libraries website
  • NZETC
  • Icon Artist 2005

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Wellington 6011, New Zealand