Queen's Birthday Honours 2013: I owe NZ a lot, says today's top laureate

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Albert Wendt: Member of the Order of New Zealand, for services to New Zealand.

Professor Albert Wendt says writing is in his nature. Photo / Dean Purcell
Professor Albert Wendt says writing is in his nature. Photo / Dean Purcell

For acclaimed Kiwi Pacific author Albert Wendt, writing is like breathing.

"I write because I can't stop writing. It is in my nature," he says.

The 73-year-old is today given this country's highest royal honour - membership of the Order of New Zealand, a status restricted to 20 living people at any time.

Speaking to the Herald, Professor Wendt said it was an honour to take up such an appointment given how much New Zealand had provided for him and his family over the years.

"I came on scholarship to New Zealand and went to New Plymouth Boys' High School and then I went to university. It was all paid for by the New Zealand taxpayer ... I owe a lot to the New Zealand public."

An emeritus professor in the University of Auckland's English department, he has written an array of novels and poetry and has made several paintings over the years.

Some of his best-known books include The Mango's Kiss, Leaves of the Banyan Tree, Pouliuli, Nuanua, Flying-fox in a Freedom Tree and Sons For the Return Home.

The latter two works were adapted into feature films.

Professor Wendt has taught in a number of institutions, namely as a professor of Pacific studies and English at Auckland University, a teacher and later headmaster at Samoa College and as a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

He was awarded the 2012 Prime Minister's Award for literary achievement for fiction and is a respected figure in New Zealand and around the Pacific.

He is particularly loved by the Samoan community - in the islands and in New Zealand - and last year his family honoured him with a matai (chiefly) title, Maualaivao, from his late father's village, Malie.

Professor Wendt said the written word and literature in general had been a journey of exploration for him.

"Looking back over the time I've been writing and teaching, I've realised that the activity was really to try to understand myself and the societies that I came out of and in which I now live.

"For me, the final achievements are not the important things. It's the process of arriving at those achievements - writing a novel and then finishing the novel.

"I still look forward to receiving a book I've published in the mail."

Professor Wendt said one thing he would like to see more of was young people getting involved in the arts - whether it be in literature or performance.

The key to success, however, was simply to get an education.

"I'm from a modest family, with modest means. My parents knew that the way out of being poor was education."

- NZ Herald

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