Situated in the southern Pacific, New Zealand's remote and beautiful islands were settled by its first people, the Māori, over 800 years ago. Dunedin is the ancestral home of the Kāi Tahu people whose stories add rich threads to the fabric of life in this vibrant southern city. Their legends and stories have been woven over centuries by the oral histories and traditions passed down by the ancestors.
In 1848, a new wave of Scottish migration brought the literature of Burns to Dunedin. A statue of Robert Burns occupies a prominent place in the Octagon at the city’s centre. Significant writers of the past and present are honoured in a Writers’ Walk, also in the Octagon.
Today, many exceptional writers, poets, illustrators, lyricists, book designers, and playwrights, writing primarily in Te Reo Māori and English, draw their inspiration from Dunedin’s vibrant multicultural community.
Dunedin has been home to many of New Zealand’s most celebrated writers and poets since the 19th century, including poet Thomas Bracken, who wrote New Zealand’s national anthem; Charles Brasch, founder of Landfall, the country’s foremost literary journal; Sir Alfred Hamish Reed, founder of an iconic publishing company; Janet Frame, internationally respected for her fiction and poetry; poet, dramatist and social critic James K. Baxter; and Hone Tuwhare, poet laureate from 1999 to 2001.
Dunedin boasts a thriving branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors and is home to many members of the New Zealand Writers' Guild, many of whom generously share their knowledge and talents with the next generation of writers through workshops and master classes in schools and writers' groups.
The poet Brian Turner says, ‘The city has fine cultural and educational institutions, is a true 'seat of learning'... Artists, musicians, composers, writers and craftspeople find Dunedin an excellent place in which to live and work.’
In the 19th century, Dunedin companies comprised New Zealand’s leading printing, papermaking and publishing innovators. Historically, firms such as Coulls Somerville Wilkie, A.H. & A.W. Reed and John McIndoe have been of national importance. Today Longacre Press, established in 1994 and since acquired by Penguin Random House, continues to operate under its own imprint and Exisle Publishing has relocated its head office to Dunedin. Otago University Press publishes iconic literary journal Landfall along with many books by Dunedin authors.
The Otakou Press operates 19th-century hand presses and encourages creative collaborations between artists and writers through its Printer-in-Residence programme, and numerous small presses also specialise in poetry and hand-printed books.
The Otago Daily Times was New Zealand’s first daily newspaper and remains the only independently owned newspaper in the country. Dunedin-based Natural History New Zealand produces excellent environmental documentaries, and are highly regarded as expert storytellers with state-of-the-art production facilities and a global distribution network.
Dunedin is home to many nationally significant libraries and library collections, offering a rich and varied array of historical and cultural literature to residents, researchers and academics. The Dunedin Public Library, New Zealand’s first free public library, was established in 1908. Today, the library comprises a network of five libraries and two book buses. The per capita use of the library is impressive, with more than a million people through the doors annually and 40,000 individuals participating in events and outreach programmes.
The Dunedin Public Library houses the Reed Collection, an internationally recognised collection of rare and precious books.
Even before the Public Library was established there was the Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute which is still in existence today, with its library operating from the central city site it moved to in 1870.
Libraries of national and international significance include the University of Otago Library, the Hocken Collections and the Hewitson Library at Knox College.
In 2011, the University of Otago established a Centre for the Book with the purpose of providing a unique centre of excellence in book history, print culture, and investigations into new platforms and models of book publication and distribution.
It fosters new research, promotes book-related activities such as conferences, publications and workshops, and liaises and develops creative partnerships with relevant national and international organisations and businesses.
The Centre for the Book aims to:
Enhance the wide range of book-centred activities that take place throughout Dunedin
Emphasise Dunedin’s rich cultural heritage in print, as producer, consumer, and preserver of books
Encourage research in all facets of the book (in its broadest sense) by utilising the diverse resources available
Promote interaction and communication on the book within the University of Otago, and other local, national and international institutions.
COLLABORATION WITH OTHER CITIES
A Cities of Literature digital cookbook, Savoir Faire, was created by Dunedin in celebration of the Cities of Literature and the UCCN Annual Meeting 2016 in Östersund, Sweden. The cookbook features a recipe with a literary flavour from each participating City of Literature, along with related images and an introduction by Östersund UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
The cookbook provides a glimpse of the food culture and personality of the various wonderful cities. Dunedin, for its part, took inspiration from the Dunedin Sound of the 1980s and the Verlaines album Bird Dog. Otago Polytechnic’s School of Food Design created the original ‘Bird Dog Hot Dog’ with horopito pickled onions and mānuka smoked chilli relish, and the title track from Bird Dog can be enjoyed alongside. The cookbook is free and available to share and translations are welcome.
The Creative Cities Southern Hui was a four-day, cross-sectoral collaborative event in December 2017, generously sponsored by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, and held in partnership with the University of Otago’s Centre for the Book. The Hui offered free events, talks, and workshops around the themes of creativity, connection, and collaboration. Each event was open to all creative minds, providing an opportunity to foster connections across creative fields and interest areas. Attendees were invited to collaborate, develop partnerships, and shape sustainable creative communities.
The Creative Connections day aimed to explore creativity as the touchstone of healthy and sustainable communities, and celebrate the power of collaboration to inspire. The wealth of exciting keynote speakers included Steven Edmund Winduo (Papua New Guinea), Anna Maria Lorusso (Bologna UNESCO City of Music), and Noel Waite (Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature). Every event was free and podcasts of the exciting Creative Connections guest speakers are also available free from OAR FM.
The Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival is held every two years in May with numerous pop-up events in between. It offers over 80 writers, illustrators, performers, and guest chairs for a variety of events: workshops, panels, poetry readings, theatrical performances, book launches, and solo-author immersion sessions, where you get to spend an hour leaning against the mind of a favourite writer. The festival features invited international writers who join a cracking New Zealand contingent that includes many Book Awards winners. There’s something for everyone, in English and Te Reo: crime, biography, fiction, medical humanities, a storytime train, edgy evening sessions, poetry, rising stars, and much more.
The New Zealand Young Writers Festival is held in Dunedin each year in September. Young people of all ages are invited to join scribes of all stripes in Dunedin, including playwrights and poets, comedians and historians, and critics and reviewers. Produced by the Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust with support from Creative New Zealand and Phantom Billstickers, all events are free and include workshops, performances, panel discussions, and bookish social festivities.
The Caselberg Trust’s ‘Creative Connections’ Residency is offered by the Trust, which purchased the home of the late John and Anna Caselberg in 2006 with the aim of hosting creative residencies. Since its inception, the Trust has held a variety of creative projects and events, as well as hosting a number of writers and artists at the cottage. The ‘Creative Connections’ Residency supports projects that reach out and make links across a variety of creative media, professional disciplines, and communities relevant to the planned project.
Established in 2001, the Printer-in-Residence Programme was initiated to encourage an awareness of the print facilities in the University of Otago Library and to foster book-making both within the University and the wider arts community. Each year, a printer spends a month working the presses in the Library’s Otakou Press Room, creating a hand-printed book. The main aims are to produce a book that would not normally be published by mainstream publishers or seen in bookshops; to keep the press technology alive; and to be an outreach for all interested parties within the University and wider community.
The Robert Lord Cottage in North Dunedin is on the fringes of the student campus, and was once the home of playwright Robert Lord (1945-1992), who left it in trust as a rent-free writers’ residence. This hundred-year-old worker’s cottage features three furnished rooms and a courtyard garden, and the Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage Trust has welcomed a range of well-known writers to the residency.
The University Book Shop Summer Writer in Residence, in association with the Robert Lord Writers’ Cottage Trust, is open to emerging writers who are normally resident in New Zealand and write for adults, young adults or children. They may write in any genre including poetry, drama, fiction, narrative non-fiction, graphic novels, biography, autobiography, essays, or literary criticism. ‘Emerging writer’ can loosely be distinguished as someone with at least one published significant work or a body of smaller works published in reputable literary journals, collections, anthologies, or online equivalents. The residency aims to provide an opportunity for the recipient to work on a subsequent work, finalise writing, or prepare a submission for further publication.
The University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence was established in 1992 by the College of Education at the University. Funded by the University and Creative New Zealand, it allows writers to work in a harmonious environment, surrounded by others who are in the business of reading and writing literature for children. This residency offers rent-free accommodation in the historic Robert Lord Cottage.
The University of Otago Scottish Writers Fellowship at The Pah Homestead is a three-month literary residency in Auckland, New Zealand. It is open to writers of Scottish residency, background, or affiliation and aims to encourage literary and cultural exchange between Scotland and New Zealand. Fellows, who are expected to take part in public programmes, live in an apartment at the Homestead, above the Wallace Arts Trust and close to research centres.