NZ on the world stage -Booker award 1985

Keri Hulme‘s book The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985.

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Screenshot taken from the Booker Prizes Twitter account –

I loved this book for so many reasons. It combined poetry and prose which invited the reader to enter the story with their hearts and their minds. The three characters the story revolved around were broken and authentic. Not everyone was a fan of the work. Some found the poetry and Maori myths throughout the text distracting rather than contributing to the story. Some found the back story which was not revealed until towards the end of the story rather convenient. One such review was published in 2009 by writing for The Guardian. What interests me was that after more than twenty years the book was still the subject of discussion. It is also still available to purchase new on Amazon.

The Booker win was the first time a book from a New Zealand writer had won the prestigious award. It was hugely significant for all writers in this country – it launched New Zealand literature onto the world stage.

Below is a very old recording of the moment the win was announced at the award dinner. At the seventh minute, the winner is announced and Keri Hulme was not at the awards ceremony as she had not thought that she would win. The people who accepted the award on her behalf were Irihapeti Ramsden, Marian Evans and Miriama Evans from the Spiral Collective, the publishers of the book. The book’s success was as much their triumph as it was Keri’s. The Spiral Collective was formed to promote women artists and writers, acknowledging that at the time it was almost impossible for these people to have opportunities to promote their work. This feminist collective used grants and donations to publish The Bone People, only the second book they had published. I remember seeing this footage on the TV news and loving hearing the Karakia ring out in the strange setting of the room where the ceremony was held. For a small moment in time, that room became a place where Maori protocol and tradition was in control. For many in attendance, it was unexpected and unsettling. For New Zealanders, it was a moment that showed great respect for the Booker and pride in Keri Hulme’s achievement. Following that moment they switch to a live phone call with Hulme who was surprised, to say the least. During this phone call much was made of the fact that Keri Hulme was winning this award for herself and as a New Zealander.

The cover art pictured at the start of the post is my favourite cover for the book. It shows how the three characters are entwined in each other’s lives and linked by their heritage. It was the illustration for a twitter discussion inviting readers to summarize the work in three words. No one did.

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Amanda Bond is a New Zealand ex-pat currently working as Teacher Librarian in an international school in Istanbul, Turkey. Her twitter handle is @kiwionthego

2 thoughts on “NZ on the world stage -Booker award 1985

  1. It’s so fun to watch this video! All the cigarette smoke – wow. And the women of the feminist collective accepting in their Maori capes – so fun. Thanks for sharing, Your post makes me want to read this book.


  2. It is what my friend would call a “Chewy” book in that it is one you might need to stick with and allow it to make you think. It builds intellectual muscles. Not something to read on the beach to relax.


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