Witi Ihimaera

ANZL Fellow

Witi Ihimaera at the Waipapa Marae, University of Auckland. Photo credit: Maja Moritz


Paula Morris on Witi Ihimaera:


In the late 70s, when I was at high school in West Auckland, our teachers showed us a short film, originally part of a TV series called Winners and Losers. Each episode was based on a New Zealand short story, and the one we saw was Big Brother, Little Sister. The story’s writer was Witi Ihimaera. I’d never seen anything like it – an urban setting I could recognise, kids I understood, a story that was about here and now, startling in its familiarity, in its lyricism and its ugliness.

But this is what Witi has always done: tell us stories about ourselves. In novels like Tangi and The Matriarch, he was teaching and entertaining us at the same time, navigating the boundaries separating the worlds of Māori and Pākehā, as well as the increasingly disengaged worlds of rural and urban Māori. Central to his work is the notion of the spiral: his stories reach back and forth through time, and encompass the mythic and the ordinary, digressions and dreams; he’s at equal ease with gods, rangatira and street kids. It’s a profoundly and audaciously Māori world view, and an attempt to re-envision the European form of the novel through Māori narrative traditions.

This audacity is something I admire in Witi. He moves into other forms – writing opera libretti, writing for the stage – and returns to his early novels to revise and re-shape them, unhampered by stodgy respect for The Text. He sees his own ‘family pantheon’ as just as expansive and dramatic as anything in Greek mythology. (He’s only written the first volume of his autobiography – Maori Boy – and it’s already being described as epic.) He’s not mired in tradition, either. He ventures into comedy, into fantasy and sci-fi. Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies is a Māori Western; The Uncle’s Story confronts Maori intolerance about homosexuality.

Perhaps the confidence to play, provoke and to re-invent is a result of his deep grounding in place – Waituhi, near Gisborne; his home marae is Rongopai; his iwi is Te Whānau-a-Kai – and the vital ancestral connection it provides. (The red-carpet premiere for Lee Tamahori’s 2016 film Mahana, based on Bulibasha, took place in Gisborne.) He’s been a generous mentor to new generations of writers, including students and including me. He wants us to be free to tell our own stories, to write our way into our own pasts and futures. It would be churlish not to take up the challenge.



NZSA President of Honour (2022-23)

Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (2017)

Ockham New Zealand Book Award for General Non-fiction (2016)

Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi, Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Awards (2009)

New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate (2009)

Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award [longlist] (2008)

Honourary Doctorate, Victoria University (2004)

Fulbright Residency, George Washington University (2004)

Best Book in the South Pacific & South East Asian Region Commonwealth Writers’ Prize [shortlist] (2004)

Nielsen BookData New Zealand Booksellers’ Choice Award (2001)

Montana New Zealand Book Award for Fiction (1995)

Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship (1993)

Goodman Fielder Wattie Book of the Year Award (1986)

Writing Fellowship Victoria University (1982)

Burns Fellowship Otago University (1975)

Goodman Fielder Wattie Book of the Year Award (1973)

Goodman Fielder Wattie Book of the Year Awards [third] (1972)



Read NZ Te Pou Muramura writer page

New Zealand Society of Authors writer page

Arts Foundation writer page


Penguin Books author page

Huia Books author page

Radio New Zealand review of Maori Boy (Nov, 2014)

Radio New Zealand interview regarding Maori Boy (Nov, 2014)

Stuff.co.nz interview (June, 2013)

Bibliography: Witi Ihimaera



The Thrill of Falling (Short stories: Vintage, 2012)

The Parihaka Woman (Vintage, 2011)

The Trowenna Sea (Raupo, 2009)

His Best Stories (Short stories: Reed, 2009)

Ask the Posts of the House (Raupo, 2008)

The Rope of Man (Reed, 2005)

Bands of Angels (Robson Books, 2005)

Whanau II (Reed, 2004)

Sky Dancer (Penguin, 2003)

The Uncle’s Story (Penguin, 2000)

The Dream Swimmer (Penguin, 1997)

Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Secker & Warburg, 1995)

Te Kaieke Tohorua (Reed, 1995)

Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies (Penguin, 1994)

Whanau (Heinemann, 1974)

Tangi (Heinemann, 1973)

Pounamu, Pounamu (Short stories: Heinemann, 1972)

Dear Miss Mansfield (Short stories: Viking, 1989)

The Whale Rider (Heinemann, 1987)

The Matriarch (Heinemann, 1986)

The New Net Goes Fishing (Short stories: Heinemann, 1977)


Creative Nonfiction

Native Son: the writer’s memoir (Penguin Random House, 2019)

Maori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood (Penguin Random House, 2014)



Essential New Zealand Short Stories (ed. Lauris Edmond, Random House, 2009)

Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (ed. Marion McLeod: Victoria UP, 2008)

The Long White Cloud: Stories from New Zealand (illus. Chris King: Oxford UP, 2008)

A Good Handful: Great New Zealand Poems About Sex (Auckland UP, 2008)

The Best New Zealand Fiction: Volume 4 (Vintage, 2007)

The New Zealand Book of the Beach (David Ling, 2007)

Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English (Auckland UP, 2003)

The Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories (ed. Michael Morrissey: Flamingo, Auckland, 2000)

Out of Town: Writing from the New Zealand Countryside (Shoal Bay Press, 1999)

Short Stories from Australia and New Zealand (Cornelsen, 1995)

100 Lovers of Taamaki Makaurau (Storytellers’ Club of Auckland University Students Association, 1994)



Black Marks on the White Page (with Tina Makereti: Penguin Random House, July 2017)

Someone’s Mana (Hatje Cantz, 2016)

Get On  The Waka (Raupo, 2007)

Auckland: The City in Literature (Exisle Publishing, 2003)

Where’s Waari? A History of the Maori Through the Short Story (Raupo, 2000)

Vision Aotearoa – Kaupapa New Zealand (Bridget Williams Books, 1994)

Te Ao Marama: An Anthology of Stories (Reed, 1992)

Into the World of Light: An Anthology of Maori Writing (Heinemann, 1982)








'I felt energised by the freedom of 'making things up’' - Maxine Alterio

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