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Taylor, Apirana


Apirana Taylor, of Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Porou and Taranaki descent, has published six collections of poetry, as well as short stories and novels. He has also published prolifically in other mediums, including sound and video recordings. He writes for children and the theatre, and is involved in acting and teaching drama. Taylor’s first collection of poetry, Eyes of the Ruru, established his powerful voice among Maori writers and his prose, written predominantly in realist modes, firmly established his literary presence.

FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature

Taylor, Apirana (1955– ), of Te Whanau-a- Apanui, Ngati Porou and Taranaki descent, has published three collections of poetry, two collections of short stories and a novel. He also writes for children and for the theatre, acts, teaches drama and is a member of the Maori theatre group Te Ohu Whakaari.

Taylor’s first collection of poetry, Eyes of the Ruru (1972), established him as a powerful voice among Maori writers. Although the collection is uneven in places, with few of its poems approaching the poignant intensity of Tu—a casualty of colonialism and Maori urban drift—reciting his whakapapa in ‘Sad Joke on a Marae’, Peter Simpson notes that its ‘raw, powerful and angry poems’ present ‘a Maori voice utterly different from the lyricism and gentle ironies of Hone Tuwhare’ (Evening Post, 14 Feb. 1997). A collaborative volume, 3 Shades (1981), followed, and then in 1997 a third volume of poetry, Soft Leaf Falls of the Moon. This volume is evidence of Taylor’s development as a poet, with most of its verses making less emphatic demands to be performed, and a number experimenting with language and layout.

It was Taylor’s prose that firmly established him as a literary presence. His short stories—collected in He Rau Aroha: A Hundred Years of Love (1986) and Ki Te Ao (1990)—are written in predominantly realist modes that Lawrence Jones finds ‘reminiscent of O.E. Middleton, especially in the natural, uncondescending adoption of a working-class perspective, in the vivid but understated naturalistic detail, and in the straightforward moralism’ (Evening Post, 28 Sep. 1990). His novel, He Tangi Aroha (1993), is narrated with the world of urban Maori in the 1990s as its backdrop. While the setting is similar to Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors, Taylor explores the issues, where Duff tends to be more descriptive, by using his characters as emblems of the complex groupings within such a society. He also aims for a more balanced perspective on bicultural issues by developing a rather formalised dialogue between Pakeha and Maori.


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

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Additional Information

Apirana Taylor has continued to publish prolifically, in mediums including sound and video recordings. Learning Media, Pohutakawa Press, Te Pou Taki Korero, Radio New Zealand, Morrison Music Trust, and Canterbury University Press have all published Taylor's work.

Kohanga; Whaea Kairau: Mother Hundred Eater (Pohutakawa Press, 1999); Soft Leaf Falls of the Moon (Pohutakawa Press, 1999); and Bell Bird Is Small: Short Stories (Pohutakawa Press, 2000) are all stories for children.

Apirana Taylor was the 2002 Ursula Bethell Creative Writing Resident (formerly Canterbury University Writer in Residence). The residency is designed to foster New Zealand writing by providing a full-time opportunity for a writer to work in an academic environment, and is open to writers in the fields of creative writing: fiction, drama, and poetry.

Ata Kura: The Red-tipped Dawn (Canterbury University Press, 2004) is an acclaimed collection of poetry which builds on that previously recorded by Taylor and published as Footprints in Tears, Thumbprints in Blood (A.Taylor, 2004) . Combining themes of heritage with those of grief, beauty, and human connection, Ata Kura: The Red-Tipped Dawn has been described as a collection that “walk[s] through life” (NZine).

Mother Tohora the Whale and Other Stories (A. Taylor, 2006) is a sound recording of Taylor's stories.

A Canoe in Midstream, Taylor's fifth volume of poetry, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2009. The collection comprises old favourites – the poems most often requested at readings – with Taylor’s new work.

In September 2014, Canterbury University Press published Taylor’s recent poetry collection the breathing tree. Offering 40 new poems inspired by nature and mythology, the breathing tree speaks to Taylor’s Maori heritage and the gods that link all parts of nature together.

Last updated May 2016.

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writers in schools information

Apirana Taylor is available for school visits under the Book Councils Writers in Schools scheme.

KAPAI - Kids' Authors' Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
I live in Paekakariki.

What kind of books do you like to read?
I like factual books. I love reading biographies and history books.

Do you have a favourite author?
I have many favourite authors, but there are none I prefer more than others.

Where to you get your ideas?
I look for ideas in every thing I see, hear, feel and think about. If I have an idea I let it grow and ripen in my mind until I’m ready to write about it.

What is the best thing about being an author?
For me the best thing about being an author is being able to make up stories and poems.

Special Questions for Primary School

Do you have any pets?
Yes, I have dogs, cats, hens, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Do you have a favourite colour?
I love all colours.

What do you like to eat?
I like eating meat.

Do you play any sports?
I like rugby.

Where do you get ideas for your books?
I make books out of my dreams.

Where do you go for your holidays?
Sometimes my family and I go to Lake Taupo. Sometimes we just stay home.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I used to fight in the playground, but maybe that wasn’t so bad because I only ever fought against bullies.

Special Questions for Secondary School

How did you get started as a writer?
I got started by getting myself a pen and some paper and writing every day.

Who inspired you when you were starting out?
I was first inspired when I heard Alistair Campbell read some of his poetry.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to be a writer?
Write, Write, Write. Be precise in what you say. Make your meaning clear.

Is it hard to make a living as a writer?
Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

What were you like as a teenager?
I was determined to do what I wanted to do no matter what. Sometimes this was good and sometimes this was bad.

When you were at school did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a young child. However schools didn’t care that much about creative writing when I was young. One teacher used to glare at us and threaten to strap us if we didn’t listen to her read poetry. That made me hate listening to poetry and not want to write. However another teacher was very kind to us when she read poetry to us and she made it fun for us to use our imagination and to write.

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Media links and clips

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Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro
Wellington 6011, New Zealand