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Albert Wendt, leading Pacific writer and artist receives Honorary Doctorate

News from Huia Publishers - 07/07/09

Huia Publishers

Revered author Albert Wendt was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in May by the University of Hawai'i for his extensive contribution to Pacific literature and art.

The honour came soon after Wendt put the finishing touches on his latest novel The Adventures of Vela, released in June in Auckland.

Apia-born Wendt describes the novel as a Pacific epic inspired by the storytelling and poetry from Western traditions and his own Samoan roots.

"It is a compliment and tribute to all the poets and storytellers who have influenced my work and life," he says.

Written entirely in verse, The Adventures of Vela follows the journey of an immortal Samoan song-maker, poet and chronicler who lives for 300 years.

The novel tells of the journey through the many stories and worlds of the immortal Vela, the Samoan songster, poet and storyteller, who was so red and ugly at birth they called him the Cooked; Vela the lonely admirer of pigs and the connoisseur of feet; Vela the lover of song-maker Mulialofa. It follows Vela down through centuries as he encounters the single-minded society of the Tagata-Nei and the Smellocracy of Olfact and recounts the stories of Lady Nafanua, the fearless warrior queen, before whom travelling chroniclers still bow down today.

A Pacific epic, this novel stretches from hundreds of years before the arrival of Papalagi (Europeans) to the present day, and fuses the great indigenous oral traditions of storytelling and Western poetry.

Albert Wendt has been an influential figure in the developments that have shaped New Zealand and Pacific literature since the 1970s. He has written numerous works of fiction and several volumes of poetry, and edited notable anthologies of Pacific literature.

His contributions to Pacific literature include four collections of poetry, four collections of short stories, a play and numerous anthologies, spanning more than 30 years. His work has been translated into many languages and is published and taught all over the world.

Two of his books, Sons for the Return Home and Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, have been made into full-length feature films. Leaves of the Banyan Tree, his third novel, won the prestigious New Zealand Wattie Book of the Year Award for 1980.

He is Emeritus Professor in the Department of English at the University of Auckland where his particular research interests are new literatures in English, especially M ori and Pacific fiction and poetry and Pacific art and history.

He has travelled extensively overseas giving readings and lectures and has an established readership.

Chancellor of the University of Hawai'i Virginia Hinshaw commended Wendt on his recent award in a press release by the university.

"The passionate fire behind Professor Wendt's work, accomplishments and contributions to the literary world has been fuelled by his extensive literary knowledge of the Pacific."

Since the 1970s, Wendt has been influential in shaping and promoting New Zealand and Pacific literature and Pacific studies.

As a painter he has also been a catalyst in the development and promotion of Pacific art. His work as an artist was displayed when last year, he held a solo exhibition in Hawai'i and Auckland. His illustrations and paintings can be found in his new book, The Adventures of Vela.

The recent award of the Honorary Doctorate by the University of Hawai'i is one more in Wendt's already impressive list of educational qualifications and awards:

Honorary PhD University of Bourgoyne, France
Honorary PhD Victoria University, Wellington
MA (Hons) Victoria University, Wellington
Wattie Book of the Year Award
Montana Book Award 2004
Asia Prize for Culture
Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit
Citizens' Chair University of Hawaii
Chair of New Zealand Literature University of Auckland
Chair of Pacific Literature University of the South Pacific