Patricia Grace

I promised many days ago to return to Patricia Grace. This writer has been instrumental in the emergence of Maori writing since the 1970s. As a teacher and mother, she wrote in her ‘spare time’.

patricia grace
Patricia Grace. Photo from her page in Te Ara.

As explained on her Read NZ page her first book, Waiariki (1975), the first short story collection by a Māori woman writer, won the PEN/Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Fiction. Grace’s work articulated a Maori way of life and talking.

Her first novel was Mutuwhenua: The Moon Sleeps (1978) and was about the love and marriage of a Maori woman and a pakeha (European) man.

In the 1980s she wrote a few children’s books, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa. They were stories which brought to life Maori mythology. One title, Wahine Toa (1984) focused on women in the mythology. Kahukiwa had been awarded a Maori and South Pacific Arts Council grant to undertake a series of paintings celebrating female deities in Maori mythology. Patricia Grace used the works to create her book.

Her most successful book was Potiki, published in 1986. It won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction. It tells the story of a Maori community in New Zealand and their struggle for survival against the attempts of land developers to buy and bully them off their land. Some critics labelled the book as ‘political’ due to the fact that it had large amounts of text in the Maori language without any translation. It was seen as a way to disempower the reader who could not read Maori yet the theme of the book was entirely political addressing the injustices Maori communities faced over land issues. The irony of the accusation was that many Maori were in that category. Over the past few decades, there has been a more concerted effort to change that with many initiatives to encourage people to learn Maori. The good news is that proficiency in the Maori language is improving, especially amongst children and young people.

Patricia Grace is still writing, her latest book was “Chappy” published in 2016. In Paula Morris’ reviewshe described Patricia Grace as “a quiet and persistent presence in New Zealand literature, a groundbreaker who is, at the same time, old-fashioned in the calmness of her tone, the particularity of her focus, and her abiding interest in the particularities of Māori customs and stories”. 

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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

One thought on “Patricia Grace

  1. I love Patricia Grace’s work and have read many of her books (see
    Re the language issue, I discussed this in my review of Potiki and one of my readers commented on it too. I felt it wasn’t a problem: as an Australian I had no previous experience in reading the Maori language, but I didn’t have too much difficulty working out what was meant from context. But I noted that another reviewer had felt that the use of Maori language was a deliberate strategy to alienate non-Maori readers. Patricia Grace, she says ‘seems to have meant for non-Maori people (pakehas) to feel lost and out-of-place in the reading’. Well IMO this is what happens when children don’t learn another language, they never learn the ‘learning how to learn’ skills that enable you to decode unfamiliar languages when you come across them. As inevitably, in the modern world, despite the dominance of English, everyone will!


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