Selina Tusitala Marsh on Albert Wendt:
Maualaivao Albert Wendt ONZ CNZM (1939-) is known as the ‘Forefather of Pacific Literature’. Those who know him better might rephrase that as ‘The Godfather of Oceanic Literature’. That’s because since the rise of Pacific Literature in late 1960s, little happened in the field that wasn’t connected to this writer, artist, anthologist, teacher, and scholar. Samoan by birth, Oceanic by nature, Albert has taught in Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, and Hawai’i. Wave after wave of his creative and critical writings have washed up on the intellectual and artistic shores of Oceania for over five decades. His writings have changed the way Oceanians think about themselves and how others think of Oceania. In his wake, Albert has left generations of writer-scholars who have gone on to write, teach and make art throughout Melanesian, Micronesia and Polynesia, and in the global Pasifika diaspora.
Since writing what is commonly hailed as the first Pacific novel Sons For The Return Home (1973), Albert has gone on to publish widely, across and in between genres writing over 18 works of fiction (novels and short story), poetry collections and plays. He has garnered numerous awards for his work, including winning the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards for his novel Leaves of the Banyan Tree in 1980, the Montana Award for Reference and Anthology for Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English in 2004, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Asia Pacific Region) for his novel in verse Adventures of Vela in 2009.
The calibre of his writing and influence has been widely acknowledged. In 2001 he was awarded the Companion of the NZ Order of Merit, and in 2013 he received New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand for his Service to Literature, which only twenty people can hold at any time. Albert has also been awarded New Zealand’s Senior Pacific Islands Artist’s Award (2003), Japan’s Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture (2004), and holds four honorary doctorates: a Doctorate of Literature from the University of Bourgoyne, France (1993), a Doctorate of Literature from Victoria University (2005), a Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Hawaii (2009), where he held the Citizen’s Chair for four years, and a Doctorate of Literature from the Univesite-o-Samoa (2015). In 2012, Albert won the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Fiction, was the Honoured New Zealand Writer at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival where he received a standing ovation for his contribution to New Zealand writing. Albert became the New Zealand Book Council patron in 2015. His latest works are a short memoir of his early writing life, Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater (Bridget Williams Books) and the novel Breaking Connections (Huia).
The Godfather he doesn’t suffer fools. By his own admission, he was grumpy in the late ‘80s (when I first met him), when he was Head of the English Department and the word ‘racism’ wasn’t just found in his writing. Grumpiness happens when artists can’t do their art, although judging from his literary prolificacy, it was only his painting that suffered. In retirement, his painting has flourished and his work has been exhibited internationally. But the best viewings are held in his Ponsonby home, former residence of Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage, and then All Black Bryan Williams. My koha for the viewing is often a Waiheke caught snapper. What I get in return is a Chardonnay, Reina’s cooking, and long wordy lunches.
Icon Award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation (2018)
Honoured New Zealand Writer, Auckland Writers’ Festival (2013)
Member of The Order of New Zealand (2013)
Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (2012)
New Zealand Post Book Awards finalist – Poetry (2011)
Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Asia Pacific Region (2009)
Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, University of Hawai’i (2009)
Honorary Doctor of Literature, Victoria University (2005)
Japan’s Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture (2004)
Montana New Zealand Book Awards – Reference and Anthology (2004)
Awarded New Zealand’s Senior Pacific Islands Artist’s Award (2003)
New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature (2000)
Albert Wendt on Facebook
Read NZ Te Pou Muramura writer page
NZ Electronic Poetry Centre poet page
Complete bibliography, including journals, academic works and plays
Auckland University Press author page
Huia Books author page
Bridget Williams Books (BWB) author page
RNZ review of Breaking Connections (May, 2016)
NZ Listener review of Out of the Vaipe (Sept, 2015)
Youtube: Albert reading at Leadership New Zealand’s ‘Dinner with a Difference’ (2014)
Youtube: Albert reading ‘Inside Us the Dead’ (2014)
NZ Listener interview (Sept, 2012)