President of Honour 2022/23 – Witi Tame Ihimaera-Smiler DCNZM QSM

The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa is delighted to announce that Witi Ihimaera is the NZSA 2022-2023 President of Honour.  This prestigious honour is bestowed on a senior writer and long-serving NZSA member in recognition of their contribution to writing and writers and the literary arts sector in Aotearoa.

Witi Ihimaera celebrates 50 years since his first book was published, Pounamu, Pounamu (1972), and next year 2023, is his 50th Anniversary as New Zealand’s first Māori novelist. He has sustained a hardworking literary career, mainly part-time while working in post office journalism, a 16-year stint in diplomacy, and a similar period as a university teacher and professor.

His other key works are Tangi (1973), The Matriarch (1984), and Bulibasha (1994), all winners of the Wattie/Montana Book of the Year award, and Māori Boy (2015), winner of the Ockham non-fiction category. His work as a New Zealand Māori and indigenous writer has been recognised with international awards including an honour as Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters awarded by France in 2017. Other works include Dream Swimmer, Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Native Son and Whale Rider.

Ihimaera has been a board member of a range of boards including Creative New Zealand, the Māori Writers and Artists Society, Learning Media, and the New Zealand Film Commission, and has been patron of others including the 100 Books in Te Reo/Kotahi Rau Pukapuka Trust.

His most recently published book is Navigating the Stars: Māori Creation Myths (2020) and he will launch his children’s picture book, The Astromancer, next week. Five of his books are available in both English and te reo and the latest, Puripāha/ Bulibasha, featured last week in the Nielsen Bookscan Top 10 bookseller list, a significant indicator of the developing bilingual reading public in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Witi has recently turned himself into an executive producer of three feature film/television projects including Sleeps Standing/Moetū. Based on his novella published in 2017, Sleeps Standing concerns a young boy, Moetū, who fights at the Battle of Ōrākau, 1864, and meets a young woman Kararaina during the whawhai. They are given the responsibility of leading 80 women and children to safety.

Ihimaera has been a member of the NZSA Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ Inc) for over 50 years and has also supported PEN internationally. His book, The Whale Rider, will feature in the upcoming auction in July at Christie’s, London, to benefit English PEN. The Whale Rider (an internationally successful film)  is New Zealand’s most translated book and became a set text in Kenya.  He affiliates to Te Whānau a Kai with a close connection to all East Coast tribes and maintains an active career in Māori tribal politics and arts. 

Three-time winner of the Wattie/Montana Book of the Year award, a Katherine Mansfield fellow, and the first Māori writer to be published in Aotearoa, Witi Ihimaera is our most groundbreaking and accomplished writer. 

On accepting the role Witi Ihimaera said“The NZSA is committed to ensuring liberal democracy within the writing profession in our part of the world, and I am proud to belong to the organisation. As a Maori writer, I have a particular kaupapa to ensure Waitangi principles are sustained within this context. Nor can I forget that whenever a reader goes into a bookshop and buys a New Zealand book with their hard-earned income that they are upholding literacy goals in their own households. Māori say ‘Ka ora pea i a koe, ka ora koe ka au,’ Perhaps you exist because of me, I certainly exist because of you. I look forward to the year.”

NZSA President Dr Vanda Symon says “ We are honoured and delighted that Witi Ihimaera will be the President of Honour for 2022-23. Witi is esteemed as one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s greatest writers, and it is incredibly poignant that he has accepted this role on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pounamu Pounamu, which was the first collection of short stories to be published by a Māori writer. Witi has been at the forefront of Māori arts and New Zealand’s cultural history, challenging how we see ourselves and our society, and paving the way for the wonderful richness of Māori writers and writing that we all enjoy today.”

NZSA CEO Jenny Nagle says, “NZSA is honoured to recognise Witi Ihimaera’s significant contribution to the cultural legacy of Aotearoa. That 2022 marks 50 years since the publication of Witi’s first book, the first Māori writer to be published in Aotearoa, makes this a culturally significant commemoration. We look forward to hearing Witi’s Janet Frame Memorial Lecture next year.

The NZSA President of Honour delivers the prestigious annual NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Lecture – an event that comments on the literary sector. NZSA will announce details of this event in 2023.  Witi Ihimaera’s impressive body of work can be viewed here.


Roll Call of Presidents of Honour from 1970 to present


Janet Frame Memorial Lecture

The President of Honour delivers the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture. The aim of the lecture is to deliver a ‘state of the nation’ address for literature and writing in New Zealand. More