From left: Book Council's communications manager Melissa Wastney, Dame Fiona Kidman, Book Council director Jo Cribb, corporate services manager Tanya Prince, and programmes manager Kathryn Carmody.
At last week's Ockham Awards ceremony, Dame Fiona Kidman took the $53,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize for This Mortal Boy, a historical novel about the second-to-last person to be hanged in New Zealand.
Set in the conservative 1950s, against the backdrop of the Mazengarb Report, the novel was described as 'moving, memorable, authentic and urgently relevant to our times,’ by the Ockham judging panel.
Here at the Book Council, we thought it was time to share this photo from September last year. We invited Fiona to join us for coffee, scones and jam one afternoon in the office.
As well as having penned an exciting range of fiction and poetry since her first novel, A Breed of Women, was released in 1979, Fiona has worked as a librarian, producer and critic, and been the recipient of fellowships, grants and other significant honours.
A loyal advocate for New Zealand writers and books, she was awarded an OBE in 1988 and a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to literature in 1998.
Established in 1972 as a response to the UNESCO International Year of the Book, Fiona was the founding secretary of the Book Council. Under her wise guidance and that of the first honorary president the late Sir Keith Sinclair, the organisation delivered a range of programmes and initiatives aimed at increasing interest in books and reading and the profession of writing.
We were keen to talk to her about the early days of the Book Council and share with her our current projects, of which she remains supportive.
In 1973, the Council delivered ‘Operation Book Flood’ where 500 books were distributed to many classrooms in South Auckland and the impact evaluated. The greater availability of books stimulated students to read and their literacy improved. Fiji and Australia soon followed with a similar programme. This set the stage for our Writers in Schools programme.
We send our warm congratulations to Dame Fiona on winning the Acorn Prize this year, and hope she will join us for afternoon tea again soon.