Patricia Grace wins prestigious literary prize

New Zealand author Patricia Grace has been named as the 2008 laureate of the US$50,000 ($65,695) Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

The honour, administered by the University of Oklahoma and its international magazine World Literature Today, is judged by an international jury and widely considered to be the most prestigious international literary prize after the Nobel.

In announcing the 2008 Neustadt laureate, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Neustadt professor and executive director of World Literature Today said: "This award is a landmark recognition of an indigenous writer and gives a strong sense of the direction of important literature in the 21st century."

Grace, whose work is heavily influenced by Maori traditions and history, is the author of six novels and many short stories and children's books.

She won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction for her novel Potiki in 1986 and was awarded the Neustadt Prize on the strength of her 1998 novel Baby No-Eyes, which was the representative text presented to the jury.

Joy Harjo, a writer, performer and musician, nominated Grace for the Neustadt, saying her work was a "brilliant weave of Maori oral storytelling contained within the more contemporary Western literary forms of the novel and short story".

Grace was born in Wellington in 1937 and trained as a teacher. She also attended Victoria University, where she earned a diploma in the teaching of English as a second language.

She began writing while she was teaching in Auckland at the age of 25 and her early work was published in Te Ao Hou and the NZ Listener.

Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Waiariki, was published in 1975 and won the PEN/Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Fiction.

In recent years, Grace has won acclaim for her novels Dogside Story and Tu, the former of which was longlisted for the Booker prize in 2001.

Earlier this year her services to literature were recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours when she was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

- NZ HERALD STAFF

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