Literary greats honoured

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2011
BETTER OFF BY $60,000: Enjoying the prestige of the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement are Peter Bland, left, Dame Fiona Kidman, and James Belich.
KENT BLECHYNDEN/ The Dominion Post
BETTER OFF BY $60,000: Enjoying the prestige of the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement are Peter Bland, left, Dame Fiona Kidman, and James Belich.

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A literary dame, an internationally published poet and a celebrated historian have been recognised for their impact on New Zealand's literary landscape.

Dame Fiona Kidman, Peter Bland and James Belich received the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement at Premier House in Wellington last night. Each receives $60,000.

Established in 2003, the annual awards recognise writers who have made significant contributions to non-fiction, poetry and fiction.

Kidman, who was made a dame in 1998 for her services to literature, said that of all the accolades she had received, this one was special.

"I've been working as a writer for 50 years and it feels like a long journey really to get to the point where your fellow writers want you to have this."

The novelist, poet and short story writer has published more than 20 books since 1979. Forging a career in writing as a journalist in the 1960s wasn't an easy road but a group of "trailblazers" inspired her to persist.

"You can say `I'm a writer' with pride and not defence, now."

Bland, who hasn't lost his British accent after 60-odd years in New Zealand, said it was his first homegrown award.

"I've always been a New Zealand poet – people will argue with me, but I will take them on about that."

Published widely and internationally recognised, Bland is also well known as a broadcaster, actor and co-founder of Downstage Theatre in Wellington.

The $60,000 purse was "serious money", reflecting the prestige of the honour, he said. The 78-year-old would use it to justify delving into archives for inspiration and to "cushion old age".

Being acknowledged by your own community separated this award from others, said Belich, currently professor of history at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University.

He will take up a permanent post next year as Beit Professor of Commonwealth and Imperial History at Oxford University and will continue to fossick into the past.

"Unfortunately I'm addicted to history and my curiosity keeps dragging me on, I'm afraid."

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- The Dominion Post

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