Ōtaki-based feminist dramatist and fiction writer Renée has been awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement, recognising a lifetime of literary works.

Established in 2003, the awards recognise a significant contribution to New Zealand literature in the genres of fiction, poetry and non-fiction.

Born of Ngāti Kahungunu and Irish-English-Scots ancestry, Renée started her writing career with book reviews and "light funny pieces based around a domestic life, children and that sort of thing".

After working from the age of 12, studying and doing just about every job possible in theatre apart from script writing, Renée wrote her first play at the age of 50.


"It wasn't an occupation that you made any money out of.

"I've now written 18 plays, eight or nine novels and some non-fiction too so that's a fairly wide spread of work.

"I've written roles for women so that they're centre stage.

"They're not somebody's mother, sister, cousin or whatever, they're there as the lead.

"That's something I was really interested in, to see us [women] all get our due.

"We hold up half the world after all."

Being awarded for her fiction works, one of Renée's most well-loved works is Wednesday To Come, a story written to acknowledge the unsung lives of women in the 1930s.

"It's a story about a working class family of women.


"I wanted to write it because nothing was ever written about women like that in the 1930s and they were heroes.

"They managed on hardly any money to feed their children and keep going and of course nobody ever mentions them in the history books.

"This is one of the most loved ones by other people. I did a good job of it which I'm pleased about.

"Everyone else has enjoyed it, there's been an enthusiasm about it, and it's sold well too which is a bonus."

When setting out to write, Renée's writing process normally begins with a line or idea that pops into her head.

"Sometimes I might hear something somebody says when I'm out or hear a line somewhere that will make me start thinking."

Renée's next work is a crime novel which she says is just like writing any other book.

"It's the same problems, the same hurdles, you have to solve the problems and just keep trucking on."

This honour is not Renée's first major award, having been made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006 for services to literature and drama.

In 2013 she received a Sir Kingi Ihaka Award and last year was awarded the Playmarket Award which recognises a playwright who has made a significant artistic contribution to theatre in New Zealand.

Also receiving awards are critic, curator and poet Wystan Curnow for non-fiction, and poet, publisher and librettist Michael Harlow for poetry.

"Each of these extraordinary storytellers has a unique perspective on New Zealand identity, and has significantly contributed to our country's literary landscape, creating a strong legacy for New Zealand writers," said New Zealand Arts Council chairman Michael Moynahan.

"Writers work away and they get things published or their plays are on stage or whatever and there's a little flurry of recognition when you find out someone's read it or seen it but it is nice to have the public recognition," Renée said.

"It's for a lifetime of work I've already done."