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’.
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’ review, she 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”.
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