Maori writer this year’s Neustadt International Prize winner
By Julianna Parker
Transcript Staff Writer
Acclaimed Maori (New Zealand) writer Patricia Grace was selected as the 2008 laureate of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, it was announced at a ceremony Friday night at the University of Oklahoma.
An international jury representing 10 countries selected her as the winner of the $50,000 prize administered by the University of Oklahoma and its international magazine, World Literature Today.
Grace was announced as the winner at a banquet honoring Neustadt Children’s Prize for Literature winner Katherine Paterson. Grace also is a children’s writer, but she competed for the Neustadt International Prize with other poets, novelists and playrights from around the world.
“This award is landmark recognition of an indigenous writer and gives a strong sense of the direction of important literature in the 21st century,” said Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Neustadt professor and executive director of World Literature Today, in a press release.
Grace is the first native writer to win such a prestigious award since N. Scott Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1969, Davis-Undiano said.
Grace — who is the 20th Neustadt laureate and the fourth woman to win the Neustadt Prize — is the author of six novels and many short stories and children’s books. Her work is heavily influenced by Maori traditions and history, and her children’s stories are often tales heard by Maori children.
Grace won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction for her novel “Potiki” in 1986. Her most recent novels are “Baby No Eyes,” the award-winning “Dogside Story” and “Tu.”
She was nominated for the Neustadt Award by Muskoke (Creek) writer, poet, performer and musician Joy Harjo, who described her writing as a “brilliant weave of Maori oral storytelling contained within the more contemporary Western literary forms of the novel and short story.”
Harjo also called Grace “an essential and key figure in the emergence of a unique Maori fiction” and noted that Grace’s short-story collection is the first by a Maori woman.
Grace was born in 1937 in Wellington, New Zealand. She attended Victoria University, where she earned her diploma in the teaching of English as a second language.
The Neustadt Prize, awarded every two years, is widely considered to be the most prestigious international prize after the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is often referred to as the “American Nobel” because of its record of 32 laureates, candidates or jurors who in the past 39 years have been awarded Nobel Prizes following their involvement with the Neustadt Prize.
For more information about the prize and a list of past winners, visit http://www.worldliteraturetoday.com.