The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.) was established in 1934 as the New Zealand PEN Centre and remains to this day the principal organisation for New Zealand authors. The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.) is a membership based arts organisation, representing over 1,400 writers nationally through our five regions, eight branches and many hubs.
NZ PEN’s first important step was in 1944 when it made representations to the government for the setting up of a State Literary Fund to help writers undertake “belles letters, poetry or prose”. PEN’s persistent campaign saw the government agree to the establishment of a fund in 1946. PEN had three representatives on the State Literary Fund Advisory Committee, which supported many writers whose work might not otherwise have survived. It often helped in the publication of manuscripts and eventually began supporting literary fellowships at New Zealand’s universities.
Public Lending Right Campaign
During the next 30 years, the organisation campaigned for a Public Lending Right to compensate authors for the loss of royalties on library use of their books. In 1973, the Authors’ Fund was introduced and had over 1,400 authors who benefited from PEN’s initiative. In 1975, PEN initiated the New Zealand Writers’ Guild to represent writers in their dealings with broadcasting and professional theatres. PEN retained its influence as an adviser to government on literary matters after the administration of the grants and the Authors’ Fund was moved from the Internal Affairs Department to the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council in 1988, and underwent further developments in 2008 when it was changed to the Public Lending Rights.
The organisation was instrumental in establishing the first literary awards in New Zealand – The Hubert Church Award for fiction in 1940, The Jessie McKay Award for poetry in 1945 and the Eric McCormick Award for non-fiction. These awards are now administered by The New Zealand Book Awards Trust and incorporated into the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
The Society administers the Lillian Ida Smith Award, The Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship, the Janet Frame Memorial Award, the NZSA/CLNZ Research Grant, and the Auckland Museum Research Grants.
Representing Professional Interests
In 1994, anticipating that PEN needed to act more strongly in the professional interests of writers, members changed the organisation into the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc). The new organisation retained the functions and culture of PEN but broadened into an effective advocate for and supporter of writers. The first successful campaign by the new Society gained equal control with publishers of Copyright Licensing Limited a company set up to collect and distribute money to copyright holders for the reprographic use of their copyright material, especially by educational institutions.
The Society now works closely with our industry partners, government and Creative New Zealand to ensure that the professional interests of writers are strongly represented on all issues.