Witi Ihimaera born 7 February 1944
Professor Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler DCNZM QSM, generally known as Witi Ihimaera, is a New Zealand author, and is often regarded as the most prominent Māori writer alive today.
Ihimaera was born near Gisborne, a town in the east of New Zealand's North Island and is of Māori descent (Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki) and Anglo-Saxon descent through his father, Tom. He is the first Maori writer to publish both a novel and a book of short stories.
He began to work as a diplomat at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973, and served at various diplomatic posts in Canberra, New York, and Washington, D.C.. Ihimaera remained at the Ministry until 1989, although his time there was broken by several fellowships at Otago University and Victoria University of Wellington (where he graduated with a BA). In 1990, he took up a position at the University of Auckland, where, today, he is Professor, Distinguished Creative Fellow in Māori Literature.
Most of Ihimaera's work consists of short stories or novels. He has written a considerable number of stories, with the most notable being works such as Tangi, Pounamu, Pounamu, and The Whale Rider (the last of which became a film of the same name). His stories generally portray Māori culture in modern New Zealand. His work often focuses on problems within contemporary Māori society.
In 1996 Ihimaera’s writing moved in a significant new direction when he decided to foreground his sexuality and write a gay novel, Nights in the Gardens of Spain. To come out so explicitly was not an easy decision, but Ihimaera describes it as keeping faith with his gay audience as, in similar fashion, he attempts to keep faith with his Maori audience.
The Uncle's Story (2000) is a powerful love story which illustrates the cyclical nature of destiny, courageously confronting Maori attitudes to sexuality and masculinity and containing some of Ihimaera's most engaging writing to date.
He was made a Distinguished Companion in the New Zealand Order of Merit (equivalent to a knighthood in the old honours system) in 2005 for services to literature.
On a more controversial note - in 2009 book reviewer Jolisa Gracewood detected evidence of plagiarism in Ihimaera's 2009 novel The Trowenna Sea. On 9 Nov 2009 Ihimaera admitted that he had plagiarised from the works of 16 other authors when writing the book. Emeritus Professor of History Keith Sorrenson has said Ihimaera had admitted plagiarising material from his works in his earlier book, The Matriarch (1986), and said the Trowenna Sea incident showed he had 'learnt nothing'. The University of Auckland took no action, saying that Ihimaera removing the book from public sale for editing was sufficient. The publisher did not in fact order a recall of the book, however, and it remained widely available in stores. A revised edition, with fuller acknowledgement, is planned for 2010.
Ihimaera is related to the British royal family by marriage - in 2004, his nephew Gary Christie Lewis married Lady Davina Windsor, becoming the first Māori to marry into the British Royal Family.
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