Keri Hulme (1947 - )
Poet, short story writer and novelist Keri Hulme won huge acclaim when her novel the bone people, was awarded the prestigious Booker Prize in 1985, the year in which she was writer in residence at the University of Canterbury. She lives, works, paints (and catches whitebait) in the tiny South Westland settlement of Okarito.
Born in Christchurch, the eldest of six children, Keri Hulme was educated at North Brighton Primary and Aranui High Schools. She relished telling stories and a sunporch in the family home was turned into a study in which, from the age of 12, she wrote poems and stories, some of which appeared in school magazines. She chose to work in the Motueka tobacco fields instead of going to University and did all sorts of jobs while wrestling with the development of her talent.
The bone people
Hulme recalls dreaming about a mute child with strange green eyes. She mused about the vision and eventually developed the character of Simon Peter, a key figure in her extraordinary novel, which was rewritten numerous times before its publication. It combined reality with dreams, Māori and European values, simplicity with complexity, realism with the supernatural, mystery and enchantment.
The novel spoke directly to many New Zealanders with its vision of a society regenerated by the adoption of Māori values and spirituality. It was described as a masterpiece, as powerful as anything encountered in literature. Joy Cowley wrote:
“Keri Hulme sat in our skulls while she wrote this work…she has given us - us”. Some English critics found her novel baffling, one even described it as unreadable, comments rather negated by sales that exceeded a million.
Hulme’s first collection of poems, The Silences Between (Moeraki Conversations) was published in 1982. Her homage to Moeraki ('my turangawaewae') and Okarito was published in homeplaces (1989) and another collection of poems Strands was published in 1992. Her most recent collection of short stories is is Stonefish (2004).
Her novella 'Te Kaihau/The Windeater' appears in Nine New Zealand Novellas, published in 2005.
- This article adapted fromThe Christchurch Writer’s Walkway, E. Beardsley, Canterbury Branch, New Zealand Society of Authors, 1999.