A Maori Writer in Two Worlds

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The Uncle’s Story
by Ihimaera Witi
Penguin Putnam (2000)
Univ. of Hawai’i Press (paper, 2002)

 

Nights in the Gardens of Spain
by Ihimaera Witi
Reed Publishing (Auckland, New Zealand), 1995

 

WITI IHIMAERA was born in 1944, in Gisborne, New Zealand, into the Te Aitanga A Mahaki, Rongowhakaata, and Ngati Porou tribes. The New Zealand writer and poet Bill Manhire once noted that if Moby Dick were translated into the Maori language, its introduction would be titled “Call me Ihimaera.” The Ihimaera is a Maori version of the name Ishmael. His nickname is “Wicked” Ihimaera.

Ihimaera emerged as a writer in the 1970’s, a time of Maori renaissance in the arts. In 1972 he published his first book, Pounamu, Pounamu, a collection of short stories. New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk read the book and selected Ihimaera to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a diplomat Ihimaera served in Canberra, New York, and Washington. In his acknowledgments to The Uncle’s Story (2000), he remembers the grief surrounding the unveiling of the AIDS Quilt in Washington in 1997. His second book, Tangi (1973), which tenderly portrays a boy who learns about his father’s death, is considered the first novel written by a Maori writer. Currently Ihimaera is teaching in Auckland and has compiled and edited a number of anthologies, one of which is called Growing up Maori (1998).

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