The best of South Taranaki's stories and poems were celebrated recently with the launch of the book Is there Something in the Water? 25 years of the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Literary Awards.
The book, published by South Taranaki District Council, was the culmination of 18 months' research by library staff, who pieced together the history of the region's annual literary awards.
They found copies of the winning stories, dating back to the first, written 25 years ago.
Over the years, judges have concurred that South Taranaki residents have a gift for writing.
In 2008, judge James Norcliffe, commenting on the stories, said: "Perhaps the spirit of Ronald Hugh Morrieson pervaded these stories or perhaps there was something in the Hawera water supply."
In 2009, judge Tessa Duder also said: "Is there something in the water here?"
A year later, judge William Taylor awarded first place in the secondary school section, saying: "A poignant tale; a literary gem worthy of wide readership".
According to the rules, stories entered into the awards have to reflect aspects of present-day life in the local area or a revealing description of a local person, rather than science fiction, futuristic or foreign settings.
Library staff worked alongside council support staff to retype each of the early stories. It is only in the last four years that electronic versions have existed.
Most had been correctly archived, but very early ones were found on microfiche stored in obscure places.
Some took more hunting out than others and one still remains elusive.
Given today's technology, it is still hoped the lost story will be recovered at some stage, because the author, although long gone overseas, is a "friend" on Facebook with Hawera locals.
The book's cover design was by council arts co-ordinator Michaela Stoneman in collaboration with library staff. Stoneman secured the right to use the reproduction of a screen print of a well-known painting by South Taranaki artist Marianne Muggeridge.
Called From Ronald Hugh Morrieson's Room, No 1 Regent Street, Muggeridge painted it from Morrieson's writing attic just before the house was demolished more than 25 years ago.
Among the authors featured in the book are people known widely in the literary world.
Susan Paris, editor at the School Journal, was a winner twice while she was at Hawera High School.
Another writer widely recognised throughout New Zealand is Aroha Awarau.
Awarau, who lived in Hawera in his teens, also won the award three times while at high school.
Awarau is news editor at the New Zealand Women's Day and several ago was named magazine journalist of the year. For some years, the first winner, Chris Pigott, has lived overseas.
He recently obtained his library qualification and returned to New Zealand securing a position with Auckland City Libraries.
Others have gone on to university and been tutored by authors such as Witi Ihimaera.
So, is there something in the water? Who knows, but certainly the South Taranaki libraries is making a strong commitment to literature, inspiring students to write with excellence.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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